A happy Valentine’s day dinner

It’s a funny old day eh? It’s supposed to be about celebrating romantic love but so often just becomes about stirring discontent. If you want to know who to blame, you don’t have too far to look – St Valentine’s remains lie waiting for inspection in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Church.

It’s not that I have anything against celebrating what you have, should you have it. One of my favourite animals is the seahorse. Apart from being so pretty, and the fact that the male steps up to the role of chief childminder, I love that seahorse couples rebuild their monogamous bond with a daily ritual of a little dance. It might take a few minutes, or it might go on for some time. But they do it every day.

Rituals are important to bind us to the people we love, whether that’s the extended family ritual of coming together for a Christmas dinner or the courting couples ritual of going out on dinner dates. And I quite like that there’s a day in our communal calenders to remind us of the importance of taking the time out to share a meal or something else intimate.

But having worked in restaurants for years, I know that Valentines ain’t necessarily the most romantic time to rebuild those bonds. I remember one particular restaurateur insisting on seating three separate couples on the one six-top table. That’s a new take on a threesome I suppose.

Anyway, personally I think it’s much more romantic to cook something – even something easy – and concentrate on providing sparkling company. If you haven’t thought of a dinner for tonight yet, there’s still time. Keep it fairly light – you don’t want to rule out other activities by being knocked out by a rich meal. I’d suggest an aromatic, lightly spicy beef noodle soup, followed by something simple but stylish like an affogato (espresso poured over vanilla ice-cream, with or without chocolate sauce).

And if you’ve no-one to cook it for, I’d suggest you cook it for yourself. Who said love has to be shared?

Beef noodle soup

(Serves 2)

  • 1 litres stock (beef if possible, or chicken)
  • 1 thumbnail-sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 125g boneless beef (sirloin or fillet)
  • 125g dried flat rice noodles
  • 1–2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • Pinch of white pepper or a generous grind of black pepper
  • 50g fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
  • 2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 chillies, thinly sliced
  • Handful each of fresh coriander, basil and mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • Lime wedges, to garnish

Bring the stock to the boil together with the flavourings (ginger, star anise, coriander seeds and cinnamon), reduce to a simmer and infuse for 15 minutes.

Cut the beef into very thin slices and set aside. Cook the noodles according to instructions on the packet and set aside. Warm some serving bowls.

Strain the stock, discard the flavourings and return the liquid to the heat. Once simmering, season with fish sauce and pepper.

Divide the noodles between the serving bowls and top each with a handful of beansprouts. Lay out the remaining ingredients in little bowls on the table.

Add the sliced beef to the hot broth, stir briefly, and spoon the broth and beef over each bowl of noodles where the meat will continue to cook.

Serve and help yourselves to the spring onions, herbs and sliced chillies – but don’t forget a squeeze of lime to bring it all together.

And there you have it, hot and spicy, delicious and a bit of fun. Happy Valentine’s!


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