24/02/2018

Journey Bread–Methi Roti–Thepla

Well, sort of. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have any fresh or even any dried methi. (Fenugreek) so ground it was.

Fenugreek is a herb that has staying power. It clings to you. Your hands, your clothes, your kitchen and your whole house if you use a lot of it, and don’t open the windows enough. For me, it’s the smell of my Indian friends'’ houses as I was growing up. It was all pervading, but you just got used to it. I admit, I like it, as it means something GOOD is cooking. I have enduring memories of ladies in elegant saris making roti, one perfect circle after another, time after time, almost without looking. It was a production line of one until the kids got old enough to do the roti flipping part.

When I saw these on Carla Tomasi’s Instagram, and remembered eating them as a kid and not being too sure about the greenery. Nobody could explain to me what it was, so I just ate it anyway, and enjoyed it very much so when I saw it on Carla’s feed, finally I knew what the green was! I didn’t have any in the house, but I decided to make the breads anyway. Anything with chick pea flour has a tendency to draw me in and their yellowy goodness was calling. Off I went.

Chapatti flour is made from hard Gehun (Indian wheat, or durum) flour. It is more finely ground than most western-style wholewheat flours so I decided to whizz my flour in a food processor first, to see if I could get it a little more fine. While it was in there, I thought I might as well do the whole recipe in there too! Saves on washing up.

100g wholewheat flour

100g plain white flour (If you have proper chapati flour then use 200g of that)

50g chick pea flour

1 tsp oil (I used sunflower)

1/2 tsp chilli

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped fresh methi leaves or 1 tbs dried (I only had ground fenugreek)

Warm water (you add this bit by bit until the dough comes together, so go slowly.)

Extra oil or melted ghee for brushing the thepla in the pan (I admit, I love the flavour of ghee)

The wholewheat flour went in first, and I blitzed that for a few minutes, then added in the other two flours and blitzed it all together for another few minutes, just to mix.

All the spices and the salt went in, quick pulse to mix, then the teaspoon of oil.  If you add an extra teaspoon of oil, it makes them as bit more pliable for longer.

With the mixer on low, I added the water slowly until the flour started to come together as a ball of dough and stopped as soon as it did. I’d add it a tablespoon at a time, just to be sure.

Gather it all together on the work surface, and give it a good knead. If it seems a little dry, wet your hands and continue kneading until it’s all smooth and you can shape it into a disc.

Cover it and leave it to one side for 15-30 minutes to relax a bit.

Divide it into equal portions – I had eight of them.

Roll each one into a ball, and one by one, flatten them with the palm of your hand, and roll out into a 5-6 inch disc about 2mm thick. Perfect discs are not important.

Set out a clean tea towel.

Heat a dry flat bottomed frying pan or griddle on a medium heat until a drop of water on it scoots about a bit.

Place the first thepla on the hot pan. Leave it to cook for a minute, then flip it over. If it has brown spots on it, all good, if not, flip it back to cook some  more.

When you flip it, brush oil or ghee onto the cooked side.

Flip it again to see if the second side is cooked, and if it is, brush that with oil or ghee also. I do I recall my friends’ mums putting the roti onto the open gas flame to give it a bit of extra puff, so I do it too. It gets a really nice toasted flavour. Obviously if you don’t have gas, skip that step!

Set them one by one onto the towel, and wrap to keep warm.

I recall my friend's mum putting the cooked roti into an empty round metal spice tin, and putting the lid on so the steam kept them soft. I don’t have one of those, so a towel it is. If they are to be kept overnight, I wrap them when they are still warm in a plastic bag. That seems to stop them going hard.

I was ridiculously pleased with these! So please, in fact, that I immediately wrapped two of them around some very crispy bacon with some brown sauce. It was DELICIOUS. I think I know what tomorrow’s breakfast is going to be…

Dough balls

rolled out

Nestled in a towel

Arty side view

MMMbacon

bacon rolls

23/02/2018

Dizi: Persian Lamb Stew, a variation

Since watching Nigel Slater’s Middle East, my poor brain's been utterly full of the foods cooked during the three episodes of that lovely programme. (Only 3. I WANT MORE!)

To be honest, I think my grey matter has jumbled everything up rather, so the ingredients I bought last weekend became a dish 'inspired by' rather than 'from' that series.

I had a small boned and rolled lamb breast joint in the freezer, so I thought I’d use that. Long slow cooking is what it needs. The recipe for Dizi usually calls for the meat, potatoes and chick peas all to be mashed together, but I’m not really a fan of that kind of texture, plus I needed it to keep well for a while, and I just wasn’t sure that a mashed meat mixture would fare well in the fridge for a few days. It needs to be eaten when it’s warm and luscious, ready to be scooped up with soft flatbread.

So here is my Persian inspired lamb and chick pea stew.

1 small lamb breast joint, unrolled and cut into pieces around 1-2” square

2 large white onions, cut in half and sliced into half moons

2 tbs olive oil

3/4 tsp turmeric

1 can chick peas

1 large baking potato, skin on, quartered

4 dried limes, pierced a few times with a sharp knife or skewer (careful, they are hard)

1 bunch fresh parsley

1 bunch fresh mint

1 large bag of baby spinach leaves

1 tsp sweet red pepper

1 tsp dried mint

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp veal stock powder or a lamb stock cube (to compensate for the lack of lamb bones)

Salt to taste

2 tbs tomato puree (I admit, I forgot this bit!)

Fry the sliced onions in a large stock pot, in roughly 2 tbs olive oil. Let them cook down on a low heat until the onions are soft.

Add in the lamb pieces, and the turmeric. Stir well to coat, and cook for a few minutes.

Cover the onions and meat with water. (At this stage you can let it cook for about an hour, then let it sit overnight, if you want to skim any fat off, or just carry straight on.)

Add in the drained chick peas and the potato, make sure the potato quarters are covered, pop in the limes, and leave to simmer for a good 2 – 3 hours.

When the lamb is tender, remove the limes, and squeeze their juice back in to the pot. The liquid had reduced a bit, so I just added a little water.

Chop all the herbs finely, and add them, along with the spinach, dried mint, stock powder and the sweet red pepper. Mix in the tomato paste if you remember!

Leave to simmer until all the greens have wilted right down and the lamb is tender.

Taste again, and add salt if you think it needs it.

Mine was a little too sour for me – I may have been too enthusiastic in my use of the limes - so I added some sugar and that evened it out perfectly.

This seemed to be even better the next day. A soothing, gold and green pot of comfort. The lime spikes through any fattiness, and the mint wafts up to you as you spoon it hungrily into your mouth. The lamb is tender, but it still retains some chew which, when eaten alongside the softened heft of potatoes makes it a very filling one pot meal. Definitely one I will make again, maybe with lentils next time.

1 Onions

 2 Lamb pieces

3 Lamb onions and turmeric

   4 Stock chickpeas potato and dried limes

5 Mint and parsley

   6 Spinach cooked down

7 finished dish

07/02/2018

Stuffed Peppers

Sometimes, you just get a hankering for something, and there it is in the shop, looking at you all bright and shiny. I love red and yellow and orange peppers, although I never used to, but green eluded me. I find them bitter, most of the time, but then I had them chargrilled at a Turkish restaurant, and was able to cope with a small amount. Over time I’ve got used to them, but not enough to eat them raw. Still too bitter for me that way, but I can eat them if they have been cooked until they’re properly dead. They mellow, and surrender their bitterness to become soft and tender, with a hint of sweetness.

I had a traffic light set of 3 that had called to me, and I knew I had Turkish sweet red pepper paste that needed using, so off I went.

3 peppers, the stalk end cut off to form a lid and the seeds and membranes inside removed

1 cup of bulghur wheat

1 tbs red pepper paste (or you can use tomato puree)

1 tbs olive oil

1 grated carrot

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt (do not stint, bulghur needs salt)

1/2 tsp onion salt

1/2 cup extra olive oil

Measure one cup of medium bulghur in a measuring jug, then cover it with boiling water up to the 1.5 cup measure on the jug.

Add in the paste, spices, carrot, salts and oil and mix everything really well. Don’t worry, you won’t damage the wheat.

Let it sit, covered with cling film, until the water is all absorbed.

Stuff the peppers with what you can, then place the rest of the wheat in the base of a lidded casserole, stand the peppers in it, pour over the extra half a cup of oil - and quarter cup of water then bake for a good 2 hours until they collapse a bit.

It's cooked, but not soggy, so hopefully the steam from the peppers and extra bit of water in the dish will fluff it all up.

I baked them at 170C fan for 2-3 hours, until the peppers were very soft and tender.

They are even better left overnight and heated up the next day, or even the day after.


Stuffed bulghur peppers raw


Stuffed bulghur peppers cooked


Stuffed bulghur pepper and feta

04/02/2018

Chicken, Garlic and Trahanas soup

There are days when you wake up, bounce out of bed and think “Yes, I can face the day.”

Then there are days when you wake up, bounce out of bed, and slowly realise that no, today is not one to be faced, it’s going to be one to be endured because at some time in the night, a cur made its way into your room, sandpapered your throat, stuffed dripping cotton wool into your sinuses and abandoned you to your headachey fate.

You know that there is nothing you can do. It’s in, and it’s about to settle. The best you can do is make the following days bearable. Before the AARGH I WANT TO SCRUB MY SINUSES WITH STEEL WOOL feeling sets in, stock up on Kind To Your Nose tissues. It’s worth it. Lip balm also stops a mistreated nose becoming too sore. (Do not use a minty one. Really.)

Make sure you have lots of drinks available because constant nose running makes you dehydrated, take your vitamin C dose, and buy in some good quality chicken soup.

Or if you are me, make chicken soup and feel a sense of achievement because you know you have food for the new few days when even putting a dressing gown on feels like a marathon wearing concrete gloves and boots.

I always keep chicken thighs in the freezer as they are quick to cook, retain far more flavour for stock than the breast, and have the best skin to crisp up in the oven afterwards.

There’s a quick method for a light chicken soup which I’ll write up first, as it’s a bit of a lifesaver.

1 chicken stock pot (I use Knorr as I think they taste the best)

500ml water

3 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 chilli, chopped (totally optional)

1/2 tsp turmeric

Simmer all of this together until the stock pot has dissolved, and the spring onions are soft, then drink out of a mug. You can add in quick cook noodles broken into small pieces if you want it to be more filling. I’m always one for feeding a cold, so I also made a more substantial soup.


Chicken, Garlic and Trahanas Soup

Trahanas is a brilliant way of preserving something for later use. It was mainly a way to preserve and use up excess milk, and when you have wonderful sunshine, you make use of it. It’s also a fabulous way to bulk out a thin soup, and make it into a filling, sustaining meal. I don’t know how long it keeps, I just know that it does. 

You can buy it in most Greek or Middle Eastern stores, or can sometimes get it online here or here or here.  I admit, I bought mine in Cyprus. Sorry about that. However, if you cannot get trahanas, you can just add rice or small pasta shapes to your stock to bulk it out, and add a squeeze of lemon for tang.

100g trahanas, soaked in cold water until it breaks apart. I can’t tell you how long, as each brand varies. My one took an hour but some do take longer.

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks (you want big bits so you get to eat those)

1 stick of celery, finely chopped as this one is for flavour, not for texture (chop up the rest of the celery and keep it in the freezer, it works great to add in to sauces and stews from frozen.)

2 tbs olive oil

5 or 6 chicken thighs, skin on

1 tbs dried marjoram

3 fat cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

1 tsp chicken stock powder

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp pul biber (Turkish red pepper)

Put the carrot and celery into a pan with the olive oil, and cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add in the chicken skin side down, and cook until there’s a good colour on the skin.

Add in the dried marjoram (don’t worry if you think it smells strong, it cooks out as quite a sweet herb).

Cover the chicken thighs with water, pop in the three garlic cloves, bring to the boil then reduce to a very low simmer and cook, covered, for at least 3 hours. Leave it puttering away while you do other things.

At the end of 3 or 4 hours, lift the chicken out and set aside. Don’t discard it, as it is beautifully tender and full of flavour. I roasted them off afterwards and they were delicious as a snack, or you can shred the meat and add that in to the soup when you serve it.

Add the trahanas and its soaking water into the pan, mix in the teaspoon of chicken stock powder, the turmeric and the pul biber.

Simmer for 30 minutes until the grains are softened.

You can cut up cubes of halloumi and warm them through in the soup if you like, or just eat it as is, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

It will set overnight, but just add more water to thin it down again. It’s very forgiving.

Chicken Garlic and Trahanas soup

01/02/2018

Burns Night Treat

I am not a fan of food waste, I never have been. I think it stems from being the slop bin monitor in the school dinner hall. It was our job to scrape off the uneaten food from the plates into  a huge bin, and I think it shocked me to the core to see how much was thrown away, lots of it untouched, so I tried never to waste food, if I can use it in some way.

I cooked a haggis for Burns’ night, and there’s always leftovers as it is such a filling thing. I know many people pull faces at it, but oh my, it is delicious. It’s like an oversized, very savoury sausage, but one where you don’t eat the skin, you just spoon out the insides and serve them with mashed potatoes, swede and gravy, like savoury mince. I’d eat it way more often than I do, if I could buy it more easily.

On this occasion we did rather well, and only had a few spoons of mash and haggis leftover, but I was not to be thwarted, despite there only being a small amount.

I had bacon. Bacon makes everything better. I had bought some Scotch rolls in the Co-op on the way home, as I knew I could use them up for the following night's tea.

4 rashers of streaky bacon.

2 tbs haggis

4 tbs mashed potato

Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan until crisped on both sides. Set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

Mix the leftover mash and haggis together very well. You have to squish it together properly so that it holds its shape, when you form it into a burger.

Heat the frying pan and bacon juices up again, place the patty down onto the pan, and leave it alone. You want to cook it enough so that it forms a good solid crust.

Turn it over in one swift movement when the crust is nicely dark brown.

When both sides are brown, set aside with the bacon.

Put the leftover gravy into the pan, whisk in 1 level tbs plain flour and keep stirring and heating until it’s very thick. You can tip off any excess oil if you like.

Spread both sides of the roll with the gravy, place the patty on the bottom half, top with the bacon, pop the lid on, and devour.

(Yes, that is a stray pea in there.)

Haggis burger i

07/10/2017

More adventures in bread: light rye

I’m having such fun with the Even Faster No Knead Bread recipe. The usual white bread flour one has become a total staple, but I wanted to branch out a bit, so I bought some wholemeal rye flour. I use measuring cups, as it’s easier, and you can buy them in most supermarkets now or online.

I do like the lighter rye breads, they feel autumnal and comforting, which is definitely the feeling I’m getting about the  weather at the moment! Dark rye isn’t something I’m used to, but I might make that my next treacly and caraway scented project.  This one turned out very light in colour, with a slight dense chew, and a happily well behaved dough. I did wing it, so I was very happy. I used some yoghurt as I wanted a slightly sour tang.

The Lékué silicone bread maker is a boon. I’d run out of bowls, and was casting around for what to mix and prove the dough in, and then there was my new toy. Yes, it can take some getting used to as it’s flexible, but stand it on a towel to mix, cup your hand round the side to provide a steady wall, and you’re there. Make sure you give the flour a bit of a mix before you measure it out, else it can pack down too heavily into the cup. (I’m so tempted to buy huge canisters to keep  my flours in, but I don’t have the room for them, really.)

1 cup wholemeal rye flour (I have Dove’s Farm brand)

2 cups white strong bread flour (Just Waitrose essential)

1.5 cups tap hot water with 2 tbs Greek yoghurt and 1 tbs honey mixed in

1 tsp fine sea salt (don’t skimp.)

1 sachet instant yeast

Put the flours in the Lékué.

Put the yeast on one side and the salt on the other. (Salt on top of yeast can retard it)

Pour in the water/yoghurt/honey mixture.

Get a silicone spatula and mix it all together well, making sure all the flour has been incorporated. Of course you can use a wooden spoon, but a silicone spatula seems to work better at getting the flour in and off the sides. I use this one.

Close the Lékué and let the dough sit for about an hour. It should double in size and start to look a little less shaggy.

Take it out of the Lékué and shape it into a torpedo, use a bit more bread flour if it’s too sticky, it won’t hurt it, then pop it back in to prove again for maybe 15-30 minutes with the Lékué closed. The oven can be pre-heating at 200C for this time.

Open the Lékué, slash the top of the dough lengthways once with a sharp knife, then pop the whole thing into the oven STILL OPEN and leave to bake for 35 minutes. If your dough is quite wet, it may need 40-45.

Turn it out onto a wire rack to cool, the bottom should give a hollow sound when you tap it. It will have spread out and flattened a bit.  

White and Rye

I made another variation later on, using my cast iron casserole pot. (It’s basically all Nigel Slater’s fault. You’ll need to read Christmas Chronicles to see why.) 

2 cups strong white bread flour

1 cup wholemeal rye flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 sachet dried yeast

1.5 cups hot water

1 tbs black treacle

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

10 pecans chopped.

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Dissolve the treacle in the hot water.

Pour the mixture into the flours, and mix it all together with a spatula until all the flour has been absorbed.

Cover with a towel, and just leave to rise 1 to 2 hours.

I then shape into a ball on a well floured surface (it’s quite sticky so you might need more flour to make it easier to handle. I use a dough scraper to help me here.)

Line the dough bowl with non stick baking paper, pop the dough ball back in and cover for 15/30 minutes while a lidded crock pot heats up at 200°C in the oven.

After 15/30, take the pot out of the oven, and carefully lift the dough, paper and all, into the pot. Lid on.

Bake for 30 minutes at 200, then take the lid off and bake another 15 minutes to crisp the crust.

It’s a light bread, springy, with a good crust. It’s going to be amazing with cheese.

Light rye

14/09/2017

From Mamushka to Kaukasis

The cookbook world can be a hectic one. It seems that every week there’s a New! Shiny! thing exploding on to our shelves and Kindles, each chef or cook with something to say about their own food, stuffed chock full of ridiculously pretty photos and sparkles.

Many of these books also make the food seem almost far away from the average home cook.  Yes, I love reading them, but there’s only a few that reach out and put an image into my head of me cooking the dishes. Once you can envisage yourself making or eating something, often that’s half the battle. You get your brain tamed first, then after that things fall into place. (It’s how I learned to like peppers. I just convinced my brain to think about eating and enjoying them. It doesn’t always work. Sorry oysters. NO.)

Olia Hercules, small beloved powerhouse that she is, has written two gorgeous books to take us deep into the cuisine of her countries. Yes, countries. Mamushka is a cookbook that celebrates her family recipes, from Ukraine and Moldova to Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Kaukasis, her latest and, I’m willing to bet cold hard money, not her last, is a culinary journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan and beyond. A cuisine that very little has been known about, and certainly one that has had huge misconceptions thrown at it.

Olia walks us through it all, telling us in an eager and affectionate voice about the history, the flavours and the people. 

I admit, I had only heard of the books when I went to the monthly Thane Prince’s CookBook Club at the Draper’s Arms in Islington. I do suffer from cookbook mania, so I try not to buy too many.

Then I met Olia. She’s frank, brutally honest – especially under Thane’s expert and probing questioning – and she is also very funny indeed. The sheet joy for life and for food shines like a beacon from her dark eyes. Sat in her gardening clothes, as she hadn’t had time to change from saving her allotment from the Council, you can see mirrored there generations of strong women, working the land, making homes, holding families together. She made a deep impression on me. Her way of speaking, her honesty, just made me want to be her friend and sit listening at her table as she talked. I’m fairly certain that we could pass an entire day talking and comparing ideas about food and family with ease. When we weren’t spilling wine over things.

Here we are. I think this is the bit where Thane said she was going to ask Olia about her sexual health later.


Olia and Thane

The recipes in these books are accessible. Nothing fancy is needed. The photos are honest, real, never beyond the normal home kitchen.

See? I’m sure my Aunt had those tablecloths.


Purslane     Serdakh

I admit, when I made the aubergine and tomato dish, there was some confusion about just how big a ‘large’ aubergine was, and how big the garlic cloves should have been, but it all worked out in the end. It was also so very delicious that I made it again two nights later. Vampires really need not apply here, because you will be repelled instantly.

I have used clarified butter in the past for Indian dishes, and have always liked its buttery smoothness so was delighted to use it again here. I made my own, and for this dish it worked amazingly well. This is not a dish to eat cold, because the butter solidifies again, but it’s to eat warm, with bread to mop every last bit of nightshade red and allium juices. You don’t want to leave anything behind. It’s one to eat and talk over, everyone dipping in the torn off bread pieces.

This is Fruit, Mint Adjika and Dairy. A sweet fruit, tangy cheese, spicy and a fresh mint paste.

Fruit Mint Adjika and Dairy


Gingeriest cake

Spread

Table

There were so many more dishes that people brought, so much to try, smells and tastes that were unfamiliar but that proved delicious.

All in all a delightful evening, and a convivial, sharing one too.

My dear Olia, I think I would love to invite you round for dinner.

29/07/2017

Halloumi and Spinach Curry

I don’t know why I never thought to use halloumi in a curry before, seeing as it is virtually the same set of ingredients as paneer, but I guess I’m just so used to it being grilled or fried up in Mediterranean dishes that it never crossed my mind.

Using it in a curry changed the texture, as the liquid from the spinach more or less braised it so it became very soft and yielding. One happy discovery on an evening where I was tired, but still wanted something fresh and tasty for dinner.


Cooking oil ( I used walnut, but sunflower or peanut will do)

Butter

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half moons (about 3-5mm thick)

1 tsp ajwain seeds (optional)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 x pack halloumi, cut into cubes

1/2 a large bag of baby spinach leaves (any tough stalks taken out)

4 cherry tomatoes, chopped finely

1/8th tsp salt (halloumi is salty, so don’t overdo the salt)

4-5 tbs water

Heat 1 tbs oil and 1 tbs butter in a large frying pan with deep sides. It will help to have a lid that fits it.

Heat the fats until the butter is melted, then add in the onions, and mix well so that all the onions are coated.

Stir and fry them for a few minutes, until they start to wilt down and soften.

Add in all the spices except the salt, and turn the heat up a little. Mix in very well, and cook for another few minutes. The spices will have soaked up any liquid, so add in 2 tbs of water, and mix.

As you cook it, the water will be absorbed, and the oils start to separate out again. Once that happens, add more water. Repeat this 2 or 3 times. This enriches the onions, making them softer and more dark in colour, and takes any flouriness out of the ground spices.

Add in the cubes of halloumi and mix them so that they get a coating of the onion/spice mixture.

Put the spinach leaves into the pan as a layer on top pf the halloumi, sprinkle with the salt, and cover.

After ten minutes, the leaves will have wilted down, and you’ll find that lots of water has come out. Do not panic.

Take the lid off, and at this stage, you could add in a few spoons of coconut milk powder if you wished, our just leave the lid off as it simmers to evaporate the water until it’s a thickened sauce.

Add in the finely chopped tomatoes, mix them in, and simmer gently until they are warmed through.

Serve over rice, or just as it is.

A little bit of lemon zest would have been a nice addition at the end, too.

Halloumi curry

15/06/2017

Borough, my Borough, and a recipe

Borough Market reopened yesterday after over a week closed, due to the aftermath of the terror attack.

I couldn’t get there for the 10am ringing of the Market bell, though I dearly wanted to be there, so I went back that evening, just to walk about, and find my traders to hug.

It had been heaving with people all day. Not gawkers who seldom spend but will grumble over the price of a cuppa and then moan if you get in the way of their photo taking, no. People BUYING. This is what the market needs, not endless photo seekers, but SHOPPERS.

These scenes greeted me. I’ll be honest and admit to being close to tears. I already wrote about what Borough means to me, here.

image


 

image

I think I almost ran to Ted’s Veg, and grabbed a hold of my lady and didn’t really want to let go. I did, in the end, and then bought beautiful fresh vegetables, cheese and some of the most fresh and fragrant mint to go home and cook dinner with.

image

I ran out of words and thoughts when I reached this point on my walk, and headed home, a little dazed. On the train home, I kept sticking my nose in the mint, and just inhaling.

I finally shook myself out of it when I got to Addiscombe, and managed to cook this lot up.

I’d say this would serve 3-4. Depending on the size of the mug you use. I think mine was a 10 oz old Starbuck’s mug.


Ras El Hanout Onions
2 large red onions, sliced into rough half moons (not terribly fine, probably about 5mm thick or so)
1 -2 tsp Ras El Hanout (mine wasn’t very strong, so I used 2)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp brown sugar
3-4 tbs olive oil
Pile onions into a frying pan, add olive oil and mix well to coat.
Sprinkle over the spices and sugar, mix really well so everything has its fair share of spices.
Place over a high heat to get a char going, and toss to keep them moving around. (I use the Nigella Two Spoon technique)
Keep an eye, as you want caramelised not burnt. One or two will catch, because Onions.
After about 40-50 minutes of cooking, tossing them around every so often, add in ½ a cup of sultanas and cook for another 10 minutes.
They will eventually cook down to a sticky, warmly spiced, oniony mass.
ONIONS ALWAYS TAKE FAR LONGER TO COOK DOWN THAN THE TELLY TELLS YOU so don’t panic, you’re not doing it wrong.


CousCous
1 large mug of wholewheat couscous
1 x same mug of boiling water + 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in it
¼ tsp fine salt (you can always add more later)
1 tsp mild curry powder (or hot, your choice)
1 tsp olive oil 1 block of halloumi, sliced into 6
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves very finely chopped
Store bought crispy fried shallots if you have them, but totally not essential.
Pitted black olives (I had a tub of these, with bits of feta in, so bunged that all in MINUS their oil)
Put the couscous in a large bowl that cling film will stick to.
Stir in the salt and curry powder.
Dissolve the stock cube in the water, then pour that over the couscous. Add the oil.
Stir well, then cover with clingfilm and set aside.
Once the water is fully absorbed, fluff it with a fork, and pop it into your serving dish.
Add the mint.
Add the onions.
Add the olives.
Fry the Halloumi in the pan the onions came out of, chop it up and pop that in with the couscous.
Mix well, and eat!

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My friend Kate and I went back to Borough this morning, to have our traditional early fried breakfast at Maria’s, and the atmosphere was different again. People were very happy to be back, but very tired after working like madmen to get everything cleaned, disinfected, cleared and set back up again. All that stock, left more or less open to everything. I can’t even think of the scenes they encountered when they got back in, or how much stock they’ve lost.

Keep going, keep supporting, KEEP BUYING.

23/05/2017

Warm Salad of Cauliflower, Almonds and Garlic

It was Easter weekend, and I’d been cooking. As ever. I had bits and pieces to use up, so this salad came together as a way of doing so. Now I think I might be buying the ingredients purely to make it again!

The almonds are used as a major flavour/texture component here, not just a garnish, which is why there is quite a large amount.

1 x 100g bag of flaked almonds

1/4 of a medium cauliflower

2 tbs barberries (you could use chopped dried cranberries or dried sour cherries)

1 fat clove thinly sliced garlic

olive oil

sea salt

Toast the small bag of almonds in a pan with olive oil and sea salt until golden. Keep a close eye on them, as they can turn fast.

Set these aside to cool. They should turn crunchy.

Chop the cauliflower into small chunks. It’s up to you what size you want the pieces, really.

Sauté the pieces in olive oil until all of them are well coated.

Add the sliced garlic, mix in well, turn the heat up and as it starts to sizzle add 1 tbs water, cover and steam til just tender.

When it’s cooled a little, mix in the toasted almonds and the barberries.

Dress with olive oil and pomegranate molasses, have a taste to see if it's seasoned enough, then top with the yoghurt, a bit more molasses, and a few more barberries if you like.

Cauliflower and almond salad

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

There is a lady called Nisha Katona who has fast become one of my heroes. Not just as a food hero, but as a hero in general. Her food is stunning, and her attitude to business, people and life…well, it’s safe to say that I admire her greatly.

She posted something on Instagram recently that made me tear up a bit.

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I knew what she meant, and felt it myself in my younger years, that my kitchen was much more strong smelling than other British ones I visited but it still made me sad that people should still feel that inadvertent yet ingrained shame about the smells of their own culture’s food. This is a screenshot from Nisha’s Instagram feed; she owns a string of Mowgli restaurants that have taken the Indian food scene by storm, and rightly so. People love her food, proper home cooking, her family recipes, the real street food, out there for all to see and taste and smell. But even with all that success, all the love for her food, even she gets that knee jerk wince.

You see, Fenugreek is that herb, that smell. I think it’s what people in this country classified as ‘the curry smell’. Fenugreek is a clinger. The loud, vivacious friend that you really love having around, because it’s not a party without them, but who never takes the hint that now might be the time when you really want to go to bed. They just…stay. Not in the way as such, but just…there.

It has been a bit of a bone of contention for many. Its very nature is to cling, to envelope the kitchen, the house and the curtains with its scent. It simply wants to be in everything, to be everywhere that you are. 

My friends at school often apologised for ‘smelling Indian’. When I went to some houses, they actively winced when the door opened.

Nisha, and her cuisine, and her Maa of course, are beauties in my eyes. The cuisine always has been, for as far back as I can remember, going to school as I did with people of all Indian creeds and colours. And yes, I do remember a friend apologising for the smell of her house, but little did she know how exciting I found it, how tantalising. I’ve never forgotten her downcast, awkward face as she said it, or the huge, white-toothed smile almost splitting her face in two when I said I didn’t care because I wanted to eat what she cooked, find out all about it, and learn how to do it myself.

I know how hard it is to be one of the only brown kids, and to have your lunch peered at and gawked at, but now thank god, I care not a jot. I have berated many a person for calling out ‘Yuk’ on another person’s food, and will never hesitate to do so again. I’ve had my fill of people who call houmous ‘tile grout’, and who wrinkle their noses at stuffed vine leaves or feta. The same goes the other way too. Fie on those who dismiss English food as all bland, or all brownbeige. Just because you are not used to it, doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you try it and don’t like it, fine! But don’t dismiss it out of hand if you’ve never even tasted it.

Nisha and others have brought delicious Indian home cooking out of the kitchen and into the mainstream, where it should take its rightful place, and for that I love and admire them wholeheartedly.

This is a dish that I cooked the day after I read Nisha’s post. I think I was feeling rather defiant. Call it a tribute. A very tasty tribute.

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

5 chicken thighs, skin on

3 tbs gram flour

2 tbs coarse semolina

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves

Oil for frying

Put 2cm of vegetable oil into a deep, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C). 

Mix the flours and spices together in a plastic bag, then pop the chicken pieces in.

Roll them around in the spiced flours until thoroughly coated.

Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover. Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes. Prepare a rack to drain the chicken.

Uncover, turn the heat up again, and fry the chicken until it's a deep golden colour on all sides. Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper. Allow to cool slightly before serving. It does stay crispy for quite a while, but it’s much nicer when still hot and juicy.

4 pieces

Singe piece

Close up

19/05/2017

Sabrina Ghayour’s Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

A long time ago I met a lady. I suspect we met via Twitter – as I have met many of my good friends – and we tweeted back and forth a lot. One day we had a sofa day at her flat, she cooked me Thai Green Curry, I met her lovely mum, and I think we realised that we thought alike.

No bullshit, no fancy airs, true to our real friends and LOVING the food.

Now, first a thing that I need to get off my chest. When I say ‘loving the food’, we are both damned capable cooks. Hell, she’s a chef, my goodness, you’d think that would mean someone can cook, but it doesn’t always mean they can cook food that makes me WANT it. Sabrina can, and does, with alarming regularity. But she also eats like your average person, too. I see those Haribo and those Scampi Fries.

Not every meal needs to be a gourmet feast, or a from scratch masterpiece. You might think that strange coming from me, as I cook from scratch so much, but that does not mean I am against shortcuts, or convenience foods.

There are days when it’s beans on toast, or shop bought pizza, a takeaway or even a crisp sandwich if I am that tired, and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

I do not, and never will, hold with shaming people’s eating choices. Ever. You may worry about their health, and that’s understandable, but their health is nothing to do with you, plus you have no idea how their particular body works, so keep your opinion and your advice in unless they ask you for that advice. Even then, take it easy, unless you are actually a medically and nutritionally trained Dr.

If your workmates only want a cheeseburger or a Maccy D’s chicken sandwich for their lunch, that is their right to do so. Not everyone cooks, not everyone wants to. Just because you do, doesn’t mean they can, or even want to. Their choice. If they eat one every day, then that is still none of your beeswax, unless they spill it on you or get ketchup on your desk.

Keep your nose out of other peoples lunches, and eat your own.

Ok. Done.

Onto the recipe.

This is one of Sabrina’s recipes, a veritable Persian staple. She shared it on her website, quite recently, so if you head there, she’ll give you the history of this dish.

TLDR: everyone does it differently, nobody can agree, so do it the way you like. But do try it Sabrina’s way first, because it is truly delicious. Don’t worry about the amount of herbs, they work, and give you such a fresh, intensely vegetal dish. I’ve eaten it almost every day since I made it, and I love it.

Ingredients (plus the way I did it)

1kg lamb neck fillet, cut into ¾ inch chunks (I used leg, as neck fillets were nowhere to be found.)

1 tablespoon of ground turmeric

2 large white onions, roughly chopped

100g coriander, finely chopped, stalks and all

100g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, stalks and all

2 big, generous handfuls of dried fenugreek leaf (methi in Indian shops)

4-5 dried limes (or 6-7 preserved lemons, halved, pips removed)

2 x 400g tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed in a sieve

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Boiling water

Preheat a (very) large saucepan over a medium heat, drizzle in a generous amount of oil (it coated the bottom of the pan) and fry the onion until softened. Mine just started to catch around the edges, and wilted a bit.

Add the lamb and seal it, (this takes longer than you think, as there’s a lot of it,) then add the turmeric, season well with pepper and stir well. (Wear a pinny, turmeric does NOT come out of clothing.)

Add the dried fenugreek leaves and coat the lamb well in it, adding a little more oil if needed. (Yes, it is very pungent. Don’t worry about it, the taste becomes a lot more gentle.)

Next, add the fresh herbs and stir fry them until completely wilted so they have turned from a bright vibrant green to a dark and thoroughly wilted almost-forest green, although without letting them burn. (I think this took around 15 minutes for me.)

It is so important to wilt the herbs down properly as this is what will enable the sauce of the stew to have the right consistency, so ignore everything you know about keeping things green and vibrant, this is the Middle East and we do things differently. <---- this cracked me up. It’s true.

Then, season the whole stew generously with Maldon sea salt* (you should check seasoning again about an hour into cooking time) and then prick the dried limes and add them to the pan (if using preserved lemons, add them in just 30 minutes before you serve) and cover the contents with just enough boiling water to barely cover the meat and reduce heat to a low-medium heat and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

I like to check in on the stew after 20 minutes to ensure its not on too high a heat, before leaving it for the remaining cooking time. Do not be tempted to add more water, a slightly thicker herb sauce is what you want to achieve. If your sauce looks like its drying out, reduce the heat (especially if using gas) but also remember that placing a lid on top of the pan will ensure you preserve/increase liquid volume inside the pan.

I covered mine initially as lamb leg needs a bit more cooking, but did the whole thing on a gas diffuser, and cooked it for about 3 hours, uncovered for the last half hour, which is when the kidney beans went in.

The fenugreek melds in with the other herbs, and the whole becomes a fresh but soft flavour, with the rich undertones of lamb, and the fresh herbs become almost spinach-like.

The colours as you cook and when the dish is finished are simply gorgeous.

 intermediate Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

I served mine with plain buttered rice, but it is perfectly fine on its own. A spritz of fresh lemon over the dish is good too.

 Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi with rice

This is definitely something I will cook again, once I’ve worked my way through my freezer stash, though I have to cook it when my husband isn’t around as he really doesn’t like that fenugreek smell. It does hang around a bit, I agree, and I think it’s lovely but I really do understand why he doesn’t like it.

So – go try it! Have fun! Sabrina’s first two books, Persiana and Sirocco, are already out there, and there’s a third on the way soon.

*Maldon has a mild flavour, whilst still having that salt tang.

30/04/2017

Red Cross Foodie Fest dinner

A while ago now, I saw an ad for the Red Cross Foodie Fest. You send them a text, they send you a spice pack, with recipes, place mats, and information. Win! (It’s finished now, but keep an eye out for future events.)

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Explore a world of flavour with our unique world food tasting experience

This summer, we are inviting you to bring your friends together and host an evening of culinary curiosity. Travel the world with five authentic international recipes, put together to take you all on an exotic adventure within the comfort of your own home.

Foodie Fest for Friends is a recipe for making funds. All we ask in return is for guests attending your dinner party to make a small donation to help fund our life saving work.

I feel fairly helpless a lot of the time, and more than a bit overwhelmed with all the things going on in the world. I try and donate where and when I can, but with this…if I could feed my friends, and in turn help feed many others, too? That worked for me on quite a few levels.

I got the pack, read the recipes, and realised that of the people I wanted to invite, 3 were vegetarian, so I decided to turn the whole thing veggie. I didn’t cook all of the recipes provided, but chose two. Ground crayfish in the jollof rice mix probably wouldn’t count as vegetarian…

I possibly slightly overdid the shopping, too. (Not the things on the shelves.) But hey ho, nothing went to waste!

Shopping

The kibbeh recipe in the pack is usually made with lamb, but I went with carrots to mimic the sweetness of lamb, and cashews to add texture. I’d also had a craving for caramelised carrots for a while. I will say now, though, next time I will make probably double the filling.

Kibbeh dough

500g fine or medium bulghur wheat

500ml warm water

1/2 tsp salt

Mix the salt into the bulgur, then add all the water. Cover and leave aside to soak. You can just leave it to get on with itself while you make the filling.

Cashew and pistachio paste

250g cashews

100g pistachio slivers

olive oil

1/2 – 1 tsp baharat spice

Spread all the nuts on a baking tray, and roast at 180C until they darken, and give off a good smell. Keep a close watch!

Set aside to cool for 20 minutes, then tip them all into a food processor.

Add the baharat spice and 1 tbs olive oil to start.

Process on medium speed for a good 5-10 minutes.

You will need to scrape the sides down halfway through.

Keep processing for much longer than you think, as eventually the oils from the nuts will be released as they warm, and the paste will become more smooth.

You will have to stop your friends from eating this out of the processor bowl.

Caramelised Carrot Filling

700g carrots, chopped in the food processor til fine, or coarsely grated (I would use more next time, probably nearer to 1kg)

1 tsp light brown sugar

1 oz butter

2 tbs olive oil

1 spring onion

2 tsp baharat spice

Melt the butter and the sugar gently, then stir in the carrots.

Mix in the spice.

Keep cooking them on a low heat until the carrot has completely softened, and started to catch around the edges.

This will take FAR longer than you think. I reckon it took about an hour for me, with occasional stirring.

When it’s softened, mix in half the nut paste, some extra pistachio slivers, and the chopped green part of a spring onion.

Leave that aside to cool off. It should look quite jammy.

 

Carrot and nut paste mix

Assembly

Mix the other half of the nut paste into the bulgur wheat. I just got in there with my hands, then added in:

A handful of salted pistachios

4 tsp sesame seeds

2-3 tbs olive oil

Mix it all together really well. It should hold together if you squeeze it into a ball.

Cashews

Cashew paste

Bulghur and paste

Press half of it into an oiled baking tray with sides.  I used one that was 10” x 14” x 1”, but I’d probably use a smaller one next time, to make the bake a bit deeper.

Press it down a lot, into all the corners.

Dollop the carrot filling onto the dough. It is very sticky, so use a wetted knife to spread it.

Add the rest of the dough, pressing it down again.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, pressing them down a bit.

Mark into sections with a spatula, then drizzle with olive oil, making sure it goes into the marks. Don’t be scared of the oil, it will probably absorb it all, and it’s part of the flavouring.

Bake at 170C for 40 minutes until golden on top.

Mine was a bit crumbly around the edges, but it all got eaten, and actually fought over!

Edit: I have since discovered that you must knead the bulghur mixture a LOT, until it forms an actual dough. I’ll know for next time!

Kibbeh

 

Tarkari Vegetable Curry

Vegetable oil and butter

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 large aubergine, cut into chunks

2 bags of baby spinach leaves

2 large white onions, sliced into half rings

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 heaped tsp ground ginger (I had no fresh, squirrels ran off with it, long story.)

1 heaped tsp cumin powder

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ajwain seeds (from the spice pack)

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cartons of sieved passata (or use fresh tomatoes, but one of our guests was allergic to tomato seeds.)

6 cups of chopped mixed veg (I used cubed butternut squash, aubergine and 3 cans of chick peas)

Heat the oil and butter together.

Add the onions and cook down until they start to turn golden at the edges, then add the garlic.

Once the garlic has softened a little, add in all your spices, stir and mix well.

Add a couple of tbs of water, then cook until the oil starts to separate. Do that twice more – it strengthens the flavour.

After about 5 minutes of letting the spices cook out, add in the veg, and stir well to coat everything in the spices.

Add the passata so the veg is covered. (Squash takes a goodly while to cook.)

I left it to simmer, covered, on a very low heat for at least an hour, then stirred in 1 tbs of masala paste, as the tomatoes had reduced the intensity of the flavour a little.

Cooked for a few more minutes, then tipped in the two bags of spinach.

Sprinkle the spinach with a little salt, put the lid back on and leave to wilt, them stir it in.

This was served over plain basmati rice, with nigella seeds in, and plain yoghurt on the side. Some people did put everything in the bowl at once…

Tarkari and kibbeh

And the leftovers the next day were GLORIOUS.

Tarkari curry

18/04/2017

Spring has Sprung, and it's emerald green.

Spring is one of my favourite times. It speaks of renewed hope - and let's face it, we need all that we can get at the moment - and it calls to us as the soil warms again and the sap rises.

One of the joys of seasonal eating is that you get to enjoy things at their best, eaten when they should be, not forced under glass or ripened with gases. I am well aware that these things have to happen in order to feed our booming and blossoming peoples but there are some things that I prefer to eat only that once a year. I can wait, I will be patient.

Asparagus and Jersey Royals are two of the main things I will wait for. Jerseys, with their delicately papery skin, need no more than a little steam, or a simmer,  and butter. I don't even add mint to their water, there's no need.

As for asparagus, with its short season, that has to be kept as simple as possible. I used to steam it, but then I found a mix of griddling and steaming worked better, for me.

At Easter, as we were on the way down to Bexhill, we passed a farm shop that I love. Ringden Hall farm makes and sells the most beautiful apple juices, bottled by variety. Thankfully my local farm shop in Brentwood stocks them too, so we are never more than ten minutes away from the sharp/sweet and sweet/dry of their juices. Discovery apples make the best, I think, and we have that one the most.

This particular day, as we drove, we saw a sign for fresh asparagus. There was no way at all I was going to pass that up, so in we went.  Great bunches of it lay on the counter, alongside some freshly laid eggs. Spring at a glance. The freshness of the greenery, and the symbolism of eggs, are just something that I will always cook.

Lunch that day was a simple affair, and it made us very happy indeed.

Take 1 large frying pan.
Add in a goodly amount of decent olive oil, then pop in the spears.
I use enough oil so that each spear is coated.
Up the heat, and as soon they start to spit, add 1/2 tbs of water and put a lid on, lowering the heat to medium.
As you put the lid on, heat more oil in another pan, so you can fry your eggs. Have your eggs how you like, it's your lunch, I fry mine on a high heat to try and crisp the edges a little.
The asparagus will steam through in about 5 minutes, and then you take the lid off, and cook uncovered to evaporate any extra water.
All I do after that is add a sprinkle of sea salt, and serve it all with bread so that the olive oil doesn't go to waste. I cannot bear wasting any of that.

Quick to cook, and oh so satisfying to eat.

Ringden Hall Farm eggs and asparagus