Finances have prevented me from going on holiday this year yet I’ve been hankering after the sun, sea and flavours of one of my favorite travel destinations, Turkey. Sadly it’s not going to happen but an invitation to escape to the wilds of the Highlands to learn to cook with Ghillie Basan, the Original Spice Girl, seemed like a very good second choice.
Ghillie Basan runs what must be the most remote cookery courses in the UK from her home Corrunich, in the Scottish Highlands.
For someone who truly only feels at home in hubbub of the city, travelling to a remote outpost in the Highlands, was going to be somewhat of a personal challenge.
A wildnerness retreat – the moon’s our nearest neighbour
Corrunich, the base for the cookery courses, has been written about in The Moon’s Our Nearest Neighbour, where she has single-handedly raised her two children and maintained an international career. An hour’s drive from Aviemore, and after a three-hour train journey from Edinburgh, you definitely need transport to get here. A mile up a shooting track from the nearest village, Chapeltown, at the heart of one of Scotland’s last Catholic glens, it has to be the remotest place I’ve ever visited – well certainly in the UK.
Food anthropologist and writer, Ghillie, has written 40 plus books on the subject of Middle-Eastern, Turkish, North African, Southeast Asian and Indian food and is an authority on these cuisines.
Good ol’ fashioned cooking techniques – pounding, grinding and grating
I was here to experience one of Ghillie’s bespoke cookery courses, Mad about Mezze. Stripped back to the traditional ways of cooking for the ultimate flavour and authentic taste, there was no electrical gadgets, blow torches, and precise measurements in this course, just sharp knives, oversized pestles and mortars and pestles, and lots of chopping, pounding, tasting, laughter and good banter.
Ghillie is the ultimate storyteller and brings the customs and culture of the food you are cooking to life, as you work through preparing a feast. There was a story behind every dish we prepared. We didn’t go hungry either, snacking on sweet melon with feta and some labna (yoghurt cheese) with dried and fresh mint, served with crusty bread and some crispbreads, I’d brought from the ‘big smoke’.
I likened Ghillie to one of my other favourite cookery writers, Elisabeth Luard, who combines her cookery writing and recipes with the tales and drawings of the locations, cultures and back-stories that she writes about.
Mad about Mezze – small plates to share
Using recipes from her book, Mezze – Small Plates to Share, we prepared a feast of roasted baby peppers stuffed with feta; courgette, feta and herb patties; turmeric potatoes with lemon, chillies and coriander; made a salad of orange with dates, chillies and preserved lemons; parsley salad with mint and bulgar; hot hummus; and smoked aubergines to make into a dip with tahini and parsley; learnt how to prepare labna (yoghurt cheese) and also dukkah, a spice rub containing roasted hazelnuts, coriander and cumin seeds, which can be enjoyed as a snack when combined with olive oil and served with chunks of bread or simply enjoyed sprinkled over salads, grilled meats or sautéed vegetables – in our case, it was served sprinkled over sauteed mushrooms and garlic; and to finish, a sweet dish of dried apricots stuffed with labna and soaked in a rose syrup.
Needless to say, we didn’t go hungry. In fact not only was there enough food for dinner that evening, enjoyed with a few bottles of wine and lots of putting the world to rights but there was enough for lunch the next day too, and yet still some more.
Ghillie’s day workshops can be enjoyed with a partner, family member or a couple of friends but there’s also the option to book a week’s holiday in Ghillie’s cottage and request a day workshop while you are there.
She’s converted one of her barns into a practical and cosy cottage, an idyllic wilderness retreat within her property. With stunning views of open moors and hills, it is a perfect place to get away from the stress and noise of daily life. There is no phone – just the sound of the birds, fields of sheep and plenty of space. You can step out the door and walk into the hills and is the perfect place for a digital detox, with its lack of fast broadband or a decent phone signal!
I spent just two day’s and one night at Ghillie’s and can honestly say that it’s the most relaxing, informative trip I’ve had in ages, with my two days feeling like a week’s vacation.
I also left having made a new friend and inspired to try yet more recipes from Ghillie’s plethora of books but I had to wait till I got back to the big city and the luxury of fast broadband to order them from Amazon though. So it appears you can take the girl out of the city after all, if only for a couple of days.
Day Workshops: £150.00 per person (minimum 2 people, reduced rate for 4 or more) – includes a bottle of wine and all the food, which you can tuck into at the end and take home with you.
Residential Workshops: £240.00 per person (reduced rate for 3 people) – The price includes a Day Workshop with 2 nights in Ghillie’s self-catering cottage.