A FEW years ago I was patron of The Born Free foundation which does great work in protecting beautiful wild animals from extinction. I even ran the London Marathon for them in 2001 to help raise funds.

Virginia McKenna
Virginia McKenna

Virginia McKenna (the actress and founder of Born Free) became a close friend and introduced me to Kiki Dee. Famous for her ‘Don’t go breaking my heart’ duet with Elton John which charted at No 1 back in 1993, Kiki also sang the title track for Born Free and released it as a single. (The original soundtrack was performed by Matt Monro back in 1966.)

Virginia and Kiki came to my restaurant and, in the middle of dinner, Kiki stood up and sang a moving version of Born Free, acapella …. Wow, it was powerful! The room fell still with appreciative silence and I noticed some of the guests wiping tears from their eyes.

Not competing you understand,  but I had a song in the charts many moons ago called Crying Tonight.

So I suggested reprising ‘Don’t go breaking my heart’, with me singing Elton John’s part. Sure, said Kiki, breaking into a slow version of the song, which was also very moving.

As I looked down to read the lyrics I noticed that the dish I had created for the evening was getting cold so I said, ‘Kiki that was amazing but you should now relax and enjoy the special dish I have made for you’. It was tofu, fried crispy and tossed with mint leaves, basil and coriander in an oriental dressing.

‘Steven’, she said afterwards. ‘I am so pleased that we didn’t have to eat an animal!’  Not known for my diplomacy (I once stood in front of the entire board of the RSPCB at a conference and used the analogy of killing two birds with one stone) I replied, ‘Kiki isn’t that your leather bag under the table?’

‘Sure’, she replied, ‘but I’m not eating it’.

Elton John and Kiki Dee
Elton John and Kiki Dee

I’m not sure the argument makes much sense really so let’s avoid the debate and move swiftly on to the dish that I cooked for Kiki and Virginia (and for Elton, who didn’t attend but sent his love to us via live satellite TV connection). He even commented on my trousers which were even more eccentric than his. LOL!

If you fancy a break from meat you really should try this dish, it is yummy.

Crispy fried and spiced tofu salad

Serves 2 people as a main, 4 as a starter

400g / 14 oz firm tofu, patted dry then cut into 2 cm cubes

For the salad:

6-8 assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, peeled halved and thinly sliced
1 small bunch fresh basil leaves
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves
1 small bunch fresh coriander
A good handful of rocket leaves
2 tablespoons cornflour seasoned with salt and black pepper
Maldon salt to season at the end

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce (tamari is the best)
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
½ red chilli, finely chopped with seeds removed
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger


Make the dressing by whisking all the dressing ingredients together with a whisk in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Put all the salad ingredients (herbs and leaves) in a separate glass bowl.

To fry the tofu, heat your deep fat fryer to 180 c (or use a wok with veg oil), toss the tofu in the seasoned cornflour and cook until golden brown and crisp, shaking the basket to ensure that the tofu browns equally, then drain on tissue paper. While still hot, season with the Maldon salt. Toss  the tofu into the glass bowl (with the leaves and herbs), drizzle with the dressing, divide onto 4 plates and serve immediately.

Steven Saunders FMCGB
Tel: 952 49 36 02

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