28 October 2010

Ultimate winter vegetables

I am gradually coming around to the idea of fruit in savoury food. This ultimate winter vegetables (and couscous) contains apricots and has a distinctly sweet taste. It's another Ottolenghi effort from Plenty and is fantastic. Recipe here.

After a quick spice reload I got to business. The basic idea is roasting lots of sweet wintery vegetables with some aromatic spices before adding a little stock to give a plate of tasty, moist and warming food. Soft too, easy on the gnashers.

Using my shiny new Scanpan roasting dish (whose 'surface technology is based on the principle of using ceramic tiles on the space shuttle, which prevent the shuttle from burning up during re-entry into the earth's atmosphere...The MOHS scale measures hardness of gemstones. Diamonds come in with a perfect 10. SCANPAN CLASSIC is a 9.5.' apparently. Sweet) parsnips, carrots, shallots and the spices are put together and roasted for fifteen minutes.

Squash or pumpkin is then added and the whole lot give another thirty-five minutes or so. Dried apricots, chickpeas and liquid (chickpea juice or water) are then added and warmed for a final fifteen minutes. The result is quite delicious - the roasting softens rather than crisps the vegetables and the combination of spices makes the food sweet and fragrant. The squash and parsnips in particular must have a very high sugar content. Ottolenghi suggests eating with couscous and preserved lemons but we had with some leftover rice and I feel bulgar would fit the bill well here also. Finish with some olive oil, chopped herbs and a sprinkle of pul biber (the Turkish chilli flakes) and it's done!

Hmm, spice-shelf seems to be becoming dangerously overloaded...

22 October 2010

Ful-proof medames

Ful medames is top-notch comfort food. It's mushy, a bit spicy and a bit rich. It seems that ful = fava beans = broad beans. Wikipedia tells us that there are two main types - the green broad beans we are all familiar with and a darker one which goes into falafel which may explain why the beans on my tins aren't green. Ful medames is the national dish of Egypt, and usually eaten at breakfast. I had it in the evening.

    • two tins of ful (middle-eastern supermarkets will have these)
    • cumin, dried chilli, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon
    • one onion or two if very keen
    • parsley
    • things to eat with it - bread, egg, preserved lemon, feta, olives, pickled chilli, fresh tomato and cucumber salad etc.

Fry the onions (cut thin) in plenty of olive oil until softened - around twenty minutes. Add generous pinches of cumin and dried chilli flakes and an appropriate amount of garlic and fry for another three minutes. Add the ful and its liquid and simmer on low for twenty minutes more. Give it a taste and when it seems there add some (lots) of parsley roughly chopped.

Optimise levels of salt, pepper and olive oil and it is done. And it is a wondrous thing. The tinned ful (I'm sure purists would insist on dried beans but who can be bothered with that for a school-night supper?) cooks down excellently and the beans have a very slight fermented tang to them.

And then the all important question of what to serve with the ful medames arises. To give enough balance to make it a ful(l) meal I went for a pitta, fried egg (which is traditional I read, as is boiled egg) and pickled chillis but before I have had it with a pile of green olives and salad. Feta would be a natural match but I can also say that, highly inauthentic as it is, grated cheddar is good, cheesy beans style.

21 October 2010

Curry lamb soup

With the leftovers of last week's curry goat I made a cold-weather soup so steadying and satisfying that it had to be recreated from scratch as soon as possible. It was a classic case of the humble successor dish being tastier and more enjoyable than the grander original upon whose remnants it is based. I thought I would go for lamb scrag this time as I have found it so good before under conditions of long cooking.

At Turkish Food Centre in Dalston, though, they had middle neck lamb for half its normal price. The middle neck is cut into chops, fattier by far than normal chops, but with the same bone up the side and an oval yellow cross-section at the bottom (spinal cord?).

Crazy cheap! Over 800g of lamb for just over three quid. I also purchased some dried peppers from TFC because they looked nice and I  felt they might be good for enriching stews.

    • lamb with plenty of bone
    • two onions
    • garlic, scotch bonnet, thyme
    • handful of lentils, barley or can kidney beans
    • carrots
    • tin tomatoes
    • curry paste

Following a similar recipe to the curry goat I sweated two onions with curry paste, chucked in some additional spices (scotch bonnet kept whole, couple cloves, some whole peppercorns) and a tin of tomatoes. I also added the dried peppers here so they had plenty of time to soften up and topped up the mix with boiling water. The aim is to cook down enough so the onions and tomatoes start to disappear and the soup is an oily red-brown.

After twenty minutes the lamb was added (brown if you fancy - I'm still on the fence) and four or five carrots cut large tipped in also. After fourty-five minutes a handful of green lentils were added and the soup simmered for another thirty minutes or so. Taste, correct seasoning and when it tastes ready then it is!

What I was looking to recreate here was the success of last week - a thick soup whose meatiness came not from big chunks of floating flesh but the deeply savoury stock. Think of the profound beefiness of the best pho as the cornerstone, augmented by a sweet richness of tomato, long-cooked carrot and meat fat and the heat of the chilli. I don't know if the extra day or two in the fridge for the ingredients of that previous dish meant the flavours had got to know each other more and had in fact become extremely comfortable in one-other's presence, but this attempt at recreation did not quite capture the savour and success of it, tasty though it was.

18 October 2010

Multi vegetable paella

A dish to capitalise on the last warm days, now seemingly, sadly, past. It's a tasty and straight-forward Ottolenghi recipe from his book Plenty.

This dish is jam-packed with veg which sits in a rice mix with the signature Spanish flavours of sherry and smoked paprika.

The generous nature of the meal means it can accommodate most vegetables. I think the inclusion of fennel was excellent.

The black olives are good here. The cherry toms are just allowed to be cooked by the heat of the rice.

Some chorizo was hanging around in the kitchen and the rampant carnivores dining couldn't resist frying a bit to put on top. It was very nice and I think wedges of lemon also make an excellent addition to a fresh and light flavoured dish such as this. They temper the starch of the rice.

The sherry gives a good broad taste to it though I don't think it would miss the suggested saffron terribly.

Apologies for the lack of incisive commentary here: this recipe does what it says on the tin and tastes how it should.

11 October 2010

Easy peasy curry goat

I have tried cooking curry goat various ways, including building the spice mix from scratch as per Hugh FW's instruction, and the method I now do is a simple and easy version I have ended up settling on. I'm not sure I tasted much different be doing it from scratch Vs a decent spice paste (Pataks in this case).

    • goat (after experimenting with different cuts I this time went for goat chops which was very meaty. I love the fact the Dalston butcher has a cut of goat in the shop just labelled 'curry goat'.)
    • two onions
    • tin of tomatoes
    • curry paste
    • garlic, scotch bonnet, cloves, thyme, brown sauce
    • additional veg (optional) 

      The three key steps seem to be (if I may be so bold) - use plenty of onions for a good thick sauce, cook for a long time (so the onions cook down and dissolve in the sauce and the bones can give up their flavour) and, of course, use scotch bonnets to get the distinctive Caribbean heat. I used one whole chilli for a big pot and it was plenty hot.

      Start by frying the sliced onions in vegetable oil with a big tablespoon of spice paste and some sliced garlic, cloves, thyme. They just need to soften so ten minutes should do. Next, add the chilli and thyme, brown sauce (this is from HFW's recipe and he claims his mate said is considered legit among connoisseurs, I have no idea but I like the idea of adding it! it's nice to have a slightly sweet taste as part of the heat) and tin of tomatoes. Cook for half an hour to get the sauce going.

      Brown the meat (look how meaty the goat is - four quid a kilo I think!) if you like, along with any other veg if you want to (I like, and added carrots and right near the end spinach and peas) and cook for one and a half hours. Plenty of versions don't have additional veg in but I like the bulking it out a bit and getting some extra bits into the meal. I did mine in the oven as I wanted to cook some sweet potatoes to have with it but other times I have successfully just used the hob. It is also lovely with rice and a crunchy slaw of cabbage, peas and carrots.


      6 October 2010

      Leek vinaigrette and open pasta

      Leeks are wonderful - cheap and tasty, humble and trusty - they loose any allium harshness given a quick poach. I followed Simon Hopkinsons's directions from his Roast Chicken and Other Stories book in pairing them with boiled egg. He suggested grating the egg but I just sliced it.

      Very retro dish this one, and incredibly tasty. The vinaigrette is a simple one with lots of Dijon mustard and red-wine vinegar and thinned with a little water.

      Given  a post-Ridley Road glut of tomatoes and peppers (this time cherry toms and those small, very sweet orange pointed peppers) I opted to roast them and make an open, messy pasta dish with some lasagna sheets.

      The veg was roasted for fifty odd minutes with a lick of olive oil and some garlic. Once nice and soft and crinkly the tomatoes were squashed with a fork to make a sauce and Parmesan grated in. This gives a wonderfully savoury sauce to hold the larger pieces of pepper. It was then layered up with the pasta.

      It looks nicer a bit mashed up really. Some capers and olive oil and then you're ready to go! Wicked taste.

      PS Used leftover roasted veg to make lunches for the week.

      Added to bulgar (such an amazing grain - the perfect mouthfeel mix of nutty chew and gluten squidge and healthy to boot!) with dried chilli, green olives, the much-loved preserved lemon, parsley, leftover poached leek and a few mushrooms. Given sufficiently robust seasoning and some strong flavours such as olives or capers bulgar can complement anything and makes a great, cheap lunch.