Starving yourself is miserable. Instead, try this alternative menu featuring light, cleansing dishes with a cheeky treat or two thrown in

Anyone who has indulged a bit too much over the past couple of weeks will no doubt, like me, be looking to bite into something a bit less rich to restore a sense of wellbeing. Not diet food as such, because that, to me, is unthinkable as soon as I begin to feel I must curb what I eat, I become insatiably hungry. Rather, what we want at this time of year is food that feels clean, simple and uncomplicated while still managing to satisfy the senses.

This is how I like to eat much of the time, with few or no carbohydrates that can make meals feel heavier than they need. Plenty of green vegetables are called for, while chilli can give a sense of warmth without making you feel heavy or full. And when you have that overwhelming desire for something sweet, especially come the early afternoon, why not try eating one or two tender Medjool dates at Petersham we all agree that they are perhaps the most satisfying sweet treat of them all.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen' (Quadrille) is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year

Poached cod with fennel, carrots and aioli

Serves 4-6

For the aioli
3 organic, free-range eggs
Juice of one lemon
250ml/8fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fish stock

750ml/11/4 pints cold water
500ml/17fl oz white wine
1.5kg/3lb fishbones. Ask your fishmonger to set some aside for you. Wash well under cold water to remove the blood
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, chopped
3 sticks of celery, chopped
Fennel stalks, cut from one fennel bulb
1tsp fennel seeds
1/4tsp whole black peppercorns
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into chunks
A couple of sprigs of thyme
3 fresh bay leaves
4 sprigs parsley
For the cod and vegetables
1 fennel bulb, cut lengthwise into six pieces
A bunch of young carrots, peeled, left whole
6 cod fillets, weighing 150g/5oz each, skinned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few sprigs of chervil to garnish

To make the aioli, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with a pinch of salt, add the lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk while adding the oil drop by drop. Once the mixture begins to thicken, add the remaining oil in a slow, steady stream. When all the oil has been added, add the crushed garlic, season and set aside.

Next, combine all the stock ingredients in a large pot and bring to boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer for 18 minutes. Skim any impurities that rise to the top. Strain through a fine colander.

Next, place the fish stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the fennel and carrots and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the stock with a slotted spoon and place into a warm bowl. Bring the stock back to a high simmer and add the cod pieces. Poach for eight to 10 minutes until the cod is flaky and opaque. Return the vegetables to the pot and cook for two minutes. Remove from the heat. Divide the vegetables among six bowls, then place a piece of cod in the centre of each bowl. Ladle some of the hot broth over the fish and vegetables, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and scatter over the the chervil. Serve piping hot with the aioli.

Lemon, ginger and rosemary infusion

I love the clean taste of hot water infused with herbs and citrus. It aids digestion and leaves you feeling warm and satiated. Rosemary has the added advantage that it aids in the digestion of fat while you sleep.

Makes 6 cups

1 bunch of rosemary
1 inch thumb of ginger, sliced into rounds
The peel of two lemons
6-8 cups of boiling water

Place the rosemary, ginger and lemon peel in an infusion or regular teapot. Add the boiling water and leave to infuse for five minutes. Serve immediately. '

Grilled chicken with cima di rappe and chilli oil

Serves 6

For the chicken

3 poussin, split in half lengthwise, or one 1.5kg/3lb chicken, cut into eight
2 fresh sprigs of thyme
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
60ml/21/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for brushing
The juice of one lemon
A wedge of lemon to serve

For the chilli oil

1 red pepper
2 red chilli
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A good pinch of sea salt
180ml/6fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon

For the cima

2kg/4lb cima (you can use broccoli)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

In a large non-reactive bowl, layer the chicken, with a mixture of thyme and garlic. Drizzle with the olive oil and squeeze over the lemon juice. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

For the chilli oil, heat the grill and when really hot, place the red pepper and two whole chillies on. Turn regularly until the pepper is charred all over. Do the same with the chillies. Place in a bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. Set aside to cool. The clingfilm will aid in steaming off the skin. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and scrape out the seeds. Place one chilli and half the pepper in a pestle and mortar, add a pinch of salt and pound until you have a rough pure. Remove to a bowl and repeat with the remaining cooked chillis. Add the fresh chilli, olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch more salt. Stir well and taste; add a little more lemon juice if needed. Set aside at room temperature

For the cima, place a large pot of well-salted water on the stove to boil. Discard the slightly tougher outside leaves, then separate the rest of the leaves from each other, but don't remove the stalks. Rinse well in a couple of changes of cold water. Once the water has boiled, plunge in the cima and cook for five to six minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a colander. Allow to cool and set aside until you are ready to eat.

Remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before placing on a hot grill. Turn frequently until done. This will take about 10 minutes per side. When cooked through (to test, insert a knife into the thickest part of the flesh, the juices should run clear), transfer to a serving plate.

Once the chicken is almost cooked, place a large frying pan over a medium heat, add half the olive oil and the cooked cima and warm through, turning the leaves frequently. When hot, add the rest of the oil and season well. Remove to a bowl.

Serve the chicken with the cima and a wedge of lemon. Pass the chilli oil around separately so that people can add as much or as little as they like.

Medjool dates, pomegranates, ricotta and chestnut honey

This simple, sweet treat can be eaten at any time of day; it is a good choice for breakfast but equally it is a light yet elegant dish with which to end a meal.

We always have Medjool dates in the fridge at work and I often reach for them mid-afternoon when I'm tired and in need of something sweet their rich caramelly flavour is my favourite sweet indulgence far more satisfying than any shop-bought sweet.

Pomegranates are well known for their goodness and sheep's milk ricotta is a lighter and healthier choice than other dairy products at this time of year. Omit the honey if you want to pare this dish down slightly personally, though, I would be loathe to leave it out .

Serves 4

6 Medjool dates
2 pomegranates, seeds only
1 small dried red chilli, crumbled
2tbsp chestnut honey, or a lighter choice if you prefer
260ml/81/2fl oz sheep's milk ricotta

Slice the dates in half lengthwise, remove the pips and slice into quarters. The easiest way to remove the seeds from pomegranates is to tap them lightly all over using a rolling pin, then cut them in half. The seeds should now come out quite easily. Remove any attached white piths and place the seeds in a bowl with the dates. Crumble the chilli over. Divide the ricotta among four plates and spoon the fruit over the top. Drizzle the honey around and over the fruit and serve immediately.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on what to stock your larder with to see you through a cold, dark January...

Dried porcini: Available by mail order from online specialists Savoria (

Salt cod: If you can't make your own, salt cod is available from quality fishmongers, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian delis, and by mail order from The Fish Society (

Dried fruit: Fairly traded organic raisins, sultanas and Turkish apricots are available from Sussex-based Goodness Direct ( and Infinity Foods ( Preserved fruits including wild berries in prosecco syrup and sweet zibibbo raisins in moscato grappa are available from Savoria (details as above).

Teas: The value of fermentation is readily apparent in the vast range of teas on offer in tea houses in our major cities Yauatcha in London, for example, which serves 150 varieties, and Chai Teahouse in Edinburgh (