Flavour made easy

Easy Wins author Anna Jones.
Easy Wins author Anna Jones.

In her 20 years working in cooking Anna Jones has seen the way we cook and eat at home change almost completely.

"The time we spend in the kitchen is less, but we expect more flavour from our food. A recipe must be fast but clear, easy but layered with taste.

"We are all on a quest for flavour, especially in vegetable-led cooking."

In her latest book Easy Wins, Jones has put the focus on 12 ingredients - ingredients that "exceed expectations".

"They sit quietly in your cupboard or fridge, asking nothing, staying fresh for weeks or months, but when called on add a serious hit of flavour for very little effort."

They are ingredients that she uses every day - olive oil, tahini, garlic, onions, miso, peanut butter, mustard, tinned tomatoes, vinegar, capers, chilli, harissa, vinegar - to make food taste great.

She decided upon the 12 after a year of observing, note-taking and talking to friends discovering they seemed to be almost everyone’s favourites.

"They are all ingredients that last a long time, are relatively affordable and easily available. All of them add an element of flavour that I love and crave."

Jones, an award-winning cook book author based in London, found her own perspective on cooking shifted after having postnatal depression with her son Dylan. During this time she felt panicked about cooking and resented having to do it. When those days passed she realised her perspective had changed and she set out to make her recipes as easy as they could be from shopping to the table.

Then when she was writing Easy Wins she was pregnant with son Esca and then dealing with a new baby.

"In those days before and after, my focus was sharply pulled, using the time I had in the most efficient way. The recipes in this book are a reflection of that time and of my life."

So she has tweaked how she writes recipes to make shopping and cooking as easy as possible.

"I can’t make your life less busy, but I have tried to stick to a palate of ingredients that are easily available and for the most part affordable and to write recipes that are pared back and don’t ask you to use every pan or dish in the house."

Jones has also included a guide into ways people can shop, cook and eat in a way that treads more lightly on the planet.

"Things we might know and need a reminder of, and hopefully some new tricks too. Saving food, time, energy and money."

There are also her "golden rules for easy wins" and a handy guide to salting food.


Anna Jones Easy Wins, Published by 4th Estate, photography Matt Russell, RRP $60.

Double lemon cake with streusel topping

This is my ideal cake. Lemony, soft-crumbed and streusel-topped.

The idea for this recipe comes from baker Thalia Ho, who has a cake in her book Wild Sweetness that ripples lemon curd through it.

This cake is loaded with three types of lemon: lemon zest scudded through the cake batter, the curd on top and a hit in the streusel topping.


Makes 23cm cake

Serves 12


250g plain flour, plus 80g for topping

20g porridge oats

250g plus 2 Tbsp golden caster sugar

Zest of 4 unwaxed lemons

200g unsalted butter at room temperature, plus 70g cold unsalted butter and a little extra for the tin

50g ground almonds

1½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp sea salt

3 large organic or free-range eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

250g natural yoghurt or oat yoghurt

100g good-quality lemon curd, plus extra to serve

Creme fraiche, to serve


For the streusel, put 80g plain flour, 20g porridge oats, 2 Tbsp caster sugar and a pinch of sea salt into a bowl and mix well. Add the zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, then add 70g of cold unsalted butter. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour like a crumble mixture until large sticky clumps have formed. This is your streusel.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan. Grease a 23cm cake tin with butter, then line with baking paper.

Put 250g plain flour, 50g ground almonds, 1½ tsp baking powder and 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl with ½tsp sea salt and mix with a whisk until there are no lumps.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in another mixing bowl with an electric hand whisk or wooden spoon, cream 200g unsalted butter and 250g golden caster sugar until pale and fluffy. This will take about 3-4 minutes in a stand mixer and longer by hand.

Scrape down the bowl and add 3 large organic or free-range eggs one at a time, mixing on a low speed until each one is incorporated, then mix in 1 tsp pure vanilla extract, the zest of another unwaxed lemon and 250g natural yoghurt or oat yoghurt.

Add the dry ingredients to the batter in the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. This is a very forgiving cake, but minimal mixing will make it as light as possible.

Scrape the batter into the prepared tin and level it gently with a spatula, then spoon over 100g good-quality lemon curd in little patches and use your spoon to swirl it in a little. Scatter the streusel topping evenly to the very edges of the cake; don’t pile it into the middle or it will sink.

Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cover the top of the cake with foil if it looks like it’s browning too fast. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the tin, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve with some creme fraiche rippled with a little lemon curd.

On lemons

Lemons are a third seasoning in my cooking.

So often when a dish is lacking something, lemon will complete it. Once I have tasted for salt, my next thought is lemon - juice added at the end of cooking for a lift, or zest for zing. Like salt, adding lemon helps food taste more like itself.

You can harness so many different flavours from a lemon: the sharp, refreshing acidity from juice; the brightening sherbet of fresh zest; the rounded lift of a roasted lemon, with its sharp but caramelised notes. And then there’s preserved lemon, which brings something altogether different to the table - salty, tangy, full.

Cheese and pickle roast potatoes with chilli-dressed leaves

A tray of these for dinner is just about the best thing I can think of to eat: squashed, crisp-edged potatoes, tossed and baked in pickle brine to give them a subtle but important chip-shop-vinegar feeling.

Once hot and crisped, the potatoes are topped with cornichons and cheese and finished with a chilli and bitter lettuce salad, though the potatoes are also good just on their own.

Pickle brine is often thrown away but it is highly seasoned gold. It is acidic, a little salty and usually a little sweet, so it instantly adds depth like a splash of vinegar would but in a more mellow way. 


Serves 4


1kg new potatoes, scrubbed clean

10 cornichons (35g), roughly chopped, plus 100ml of the brine from the jar

100ml extra-virgin olive oil

3 fresh red chillies

juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

100g Comte cheese or vegan mature cheddar-style cheese

1 head of radicchio or other bitter lettuce


Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add 1kg scrubbed new potatoes and cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on their size, until they are just cooked. Drain and leave the potatoes to steam dry in a colander.

Tip the potatoes into a roasting tin, toss them with 50ml cornichon brine, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper, then roast for 15 minutes.

Remove the tin from the oven and, using a potato masher, squish the potatoes until they crack and expose some of the soft, fluffy insides. Pour over another 2 tablespoons olive oil and return to the oven for another 30-40 minutes, turning the potatoes halfway, until golden and crispy.

Prick 3 fresh red chillies with the tip of a sharp knife - this stops them exploding when they are cooked.

Using a pair of metal tongs, hold the chillies one at a time over a gas flame until they’re blackened and blistered all over. If you don’t have a gas hob you can do this in a dry frying pan. Once they are all blistered, put them in a small bowl, cover and leave for 15 minutes. This way they will steam in their own heat and the skins will peel off easily. Once cool enough to handle, peel the chillies, open them up and scrape out all the seeds. Discard the seeds and finely chop the flesh. Put in a mixing bowl with the remaining olive oil (70ml) and the juice of 1 unwaxed lemon and mix well. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Once the potatoes are golden and crisp, add 50ml of cornichon brine while the potatoes are still hot, then toss with 10 roughly chopped cornichons and a generous grating of Comte or vegan cheddar. Tear 1 head of radicchio into bite-sized pieces, season with salt and toss in the chilli dressing.

On vinegar

To me, acid is the most important and forgotten aspect of cooking. It’s a highlight, a top note that brings a plate of food together. Vinegar is an always available, cheap and easy way to add a hit of acidity. It has a lower acidity level than lemon and lime, but it doesn’t have the natural sweetness of citrus, and so it tastes sharper.

Vinegar is something I find myself craving, and I keep as many vinegars on hand as I do oils. An essential collection of vinegars to me would be white wine or cider, a red wine vinegar and a rice wine vinegar. With these vinegars, you can do everything.

We are used to using vinegar for dressings and seasoning, but I think vinegar is underrated as an ingredient. I will add acid to my food during cooking and at the end to balance. Adding vinegar to roasted squash, for example, seasons the squash with acidity from within, and the vinegar mellows as it cooks.

The way I use vinegar most is to quickly pickle an element of my dinner in the time it takes me to cook everything else. From finely sliced onions to grated carrot and beetroot or thinly sliced cucumber, these quick pickles are made with the vinegar that suits what I am eating best. Always with a pinch of salt and sometimes one of sugar, and often with an added herb or spice, these are a boosting final element to lots of my simple dinners.

Pickles - by that I mean gherkins and cornichons and their brine - feature heavily in this chapter too. They bring vinegary acidity as well as crunch to so much of what I cook.

Tray-bake lemon dal with pickled green chillies

Dal is a staple of our weeknight cooking. It’s the dinner I never get bored of. I have a few favourites I make on rotation: coconut, lemon and now this tray-baked tomato one.

This dal is made in the oven, so it’s very hands-off. The tinned tomatoes are roasted first to give a deeper  flavour.

Serve  with a pot of rice, some parathas, salted yoghurt and chutney. 


Serve 4


1 Tbsp coriander seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes

2 Tbsp ghee or other cooking oil

2 unwaxed lemons

a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled

8 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

2 green chillies, sliced

2 tsp golden caster sugar

50ml white wine vinegar

1 tsp sea salt

a bunch of coriander (30g), chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

a cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or ½ tsp if using other chilli powders)

1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds

300g split red lentils

1 x 400ml tin coconut milk

800ml hot vegetable stock

250g paneer or firm tofu

To serve: warm rice, parathas or roti, yoghurt and chutney to serve


Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan.

Add 1 Tbsp coriander seeds and 2 tsp cumin seeds to a high-sided baking tray and roast in the oven for 2-4 minutes until fragrant, then remove and tip into a mortar and pestle and crush before returning to the tray. Drain 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes and add to the tray.

Use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon/fork to crush the tomatoes to release their juice and flatten them a little, and spread them evenly over the tray.

Add 2 Tbsp ghee or oil, then grate in the zest of 1 unwaxed lemon and 1 thumb of ginger and add 8 thinly sliced cloves of garlic. Toss the tomatoes in the spices and roast for 30 minutes until sticky and intensified in flavour.

Once the tomatoes have had their time, remove them from the oven and stir in 1 tsp teaspoon ground turmeric, a cinnamon stick, 1 Tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder and 1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds. Add 300g split red lentils and pour over a 400ml tin of coconut milk and 800ml hot vegetable stock. Cover tightly with foil and return to the oven for another 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, carefully take the tray out of the oven and remove the foil. Stir the dal, then season well with sea salt. Tear 250g paneer or firm tofu over the top of the dal and squeeze over the juice of the 2 zested lemons. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes or until the edges of the paneer are beginning to turn golden, the dal is creamy and the lentils are soft.

Finish with the chilli and serve Serve with rice, parathas, yoghurt and chutney and the pickled chilli and coriander mixture. Will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Put 2 sliced green chillies, 2 tsp golden caster sugar, 50ml white wine vinegar and a teaspoon of salt into a small bowl and mix well. Add the zest of a second unwaxed lemon. Stir through a bunch of chopped coriander, stems and all. Put in the fridge to keep cool.

On tomatoes

This chapter centres on preserved tomatoes, not fresh. I eat fresh tomatoes for most of the year - colourful British ones in the summer and the hardier, saltier Italian and Spanish winter varieties in the winter. But nothing comes close to the ease of a tin or the squeeze of a tube.

Tinned tomatoes and passata are almost always the tomatoes I use for cooking, even in tomato season. To me, once cooked, they have a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. It is harder to get that sharp acidity from a fresh tomato. And the paste or puree is so deeply flavoured that you only need a tablespoon or two; its raw edges softened by a minute or two cooked and stirred in the pan.

Tomatoes are rich in citric acid, so they have a lot of natural acidity as well as sweetness.