In Hong Kong, the weather at this time of year doesn’t really feel or look autumnal: the leaves aren’t changing colour and there’s no crisp bite in the air. Still, we have slightly cooler days when we crave something that’s more substantial than a green salad with grilled chicken – even if it is still too warm for heavy, slowcooked braises. This first dish is hearty on its own but, if you want an even more filling meal, serve it with the kabocha gratin.

Pan-fried chicken livers with sautéed grapes, wilted baby spinach, pearl couscous and sumac (pictured)

This dish is even better if you substitute thin slices (about 5mm thick) of calves livers (from humanely reared animals) for the chicken livers. Cut the liver into two-bite strips before proceeding with the recipe. You can omit soaking the calves liver in milk; this technique is used with stronger tasting livers to remove any bitterness. Both calves livers and chicken livers should be cooked to medium, so they’re pale pink at the centre.

Sumac is a ground spice with a tart flavour; I’ve seen it at City’super (in the section with Middle Eastern ingredients, where you’ll also find the couscous) and online from Regency Spices (regencyspices.hk).

600 grams chicken livers
400 grams baby spinach
100ml milk, or as needed
100 grams pearl couscous
400 grams seedless grapes, preferably a mix of green and red
100 grams plain flour
1 tsp paprika
Cooking oil, as needed
30 grams ghee or clarified butter, or as needed
Sumac, to sprinkle
Fine sea salt, rough-flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the chicken livers on a cutting board. Separate the two lobes of each liver by removing the membrane that connects them. Trim off any exterior fat and blood. Put the livers in a bowl, add enough milk to cover them, then refrigerate for an hour. While the livers are soaking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the pearl couscous and boil until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water then drain again. Thoroughly rinse the baby spinach then drain it and lay it out on dish towels to dry (or, if you have a salad spinner, spin it dry). Cut the grapes in half.

Drain the livers. Mix the flour with five grams of fine sea salt, the paprika and half a teaspoon of black pepper. Pour oil to the depth of about 5mm in a skillet and place it over a medium flame. Dredge the livers in the flour mixture and shake off the excess, then place them in the pan. Pan-fry the livers until they’re cooked to medium, turning them over once. Cook the livers in batches, then drain on paper towels.

Heat 30 grams of ghee or clarified butter in a wok or large skillet set over a high flame. Add the baby spinach and a sprinkling of salt and stir fry until wilted. Use tongs to remove the spinach from the pan and put the vegetable into a bowl. Add the couscous to the pan, sprinkle with salt and cook over a high flame, stirring often, until heated through. Put the couscous in the bowl with the spinach. Put the grapes in the pan and cook over a high flame until they start to collapse slightly. Put them in a separate bowl.

Mix the spinach with the couscous and divide between four plates. Arrange the grapes on the plate, then top with the livers. Sprinkle sumac over the ingredients then add some freshly ground black pepper and roughflaked sea salt. Serve immediately. 

Kabocha squash gratin

I love kabocha, the Japanese pumpkin with a rough, green rind, bright orange flesh and sweet flavour. There’s no need to remove the rind for this gratin, because it softens and becomes tender while it cooks.

1kg kabocha squash
30ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried chilli flakes, or to taste
100 grams freshly grated gruyere
250ml cream
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
30 grams freshly grated parmesan
30 grams panko
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 20 grams slightly softened butter, for greasing the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Use the butter to lightly coat a gratin dish (about 23cm by 15cm).

Remove and discard the seeds and fibres from cavity of the squash. Trim off and discard the stem from the squash, cutting deeply enough to expose the orange flesh. Slice the kabocha about 5mm thick, then cut the slices into pieces about 5cm wide. Put the kabocha into a large bowl and add the olive oil, chilli flakes and gruyere. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and more heavily with pepper, then use your hands to thoroughly mix the ingredients. Spread the ingredients evenly into the baking dish.

Heat the cream with the garlic until simmering, then pour this over the kabocha. Mix the parmesan with the panko and sprinkle over the ingredients in the dish. Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender, most of the cream has been absorbed and the surface is crusty and golden brown. Serve immediately.

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