26 April 2011

Dal 1 - yellow split pea

First of all: I've not been slacking. I've been on holiday. Within a few hours of returning to London we saw people fighting with knives in the afternoon at the top of Mare Street, Hackney Central. Young men running at each other in the road, one with a dog and one with a weapon in his hand.

Still, the weather was great and Hackney in the sun is easily one of the best places in the world. If you haven't sat in the the lovely garden of St John at Hackney or visited the nearby Sutton House (a National Trust property no less) then I recommended checking them both out. St John has a very nice walled garden.   

So, on to dal! Dal seems like a good idea most of the time. It's cheap, healthy if you go easy on the ghee, and most important of all, it tastes amazing. I'm going to cook dal till it tastes perfect. There are just so many recipes out there though - where's a man to start?  I decided to begin my quest by making a basic version using my modest knowledge of Indian cooking and then take it from there by researching other recipes. Here it is.

  • onions and a little garlic
  • cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, green chilli,
  • yellow split peas
  • ghee

Cumin and coriander are such a good combination that it seemed wise to start with them.

Fry a couple of chopped small onions in three teaspoons of ghee for ten minutes with a little garlic. Add a teaspoon of coriander seed and three of cumin. Fry for another few minutes until you can smell them starting to give up their oils. Add two chopped green chillies (I keep a few in the freezer for times like this when you are cooking out the store-cupboard), a few shakes of turmeric and garam masala  and the yellow split peas (the amount in the jar above) and fry for a couple of minutes. I had originally thought these yellow discs were lentils but Wikipedia says otherwise. Wikipedia knows best.

When it's all looking good add about a litre of water and three cardamom pods partly prised open. These things need more cooking than you might think - they are pappy at twenty minutes, edible at thirty but really come into their own nearer fifty.

try with an islet of melting ghee on top

Very nice. Once the tongue-burning period well known to any glutton unable to resist freshly cooked food had passed the flavours opened up nicely. An earthy and honest base of flavour from the peas and the onion (you shouldn't be able to feel much onion in your mouth, it's all about them dissolving) with a satisfying underlying heat and flashes of something a bit more racy when you approach cardamom wake. Don't be tempted to put too much fat in this dish: it's appeal lies in its restrained and earthy tastes.

So, any winning dal recipes out there?

5 April 2011

Chicken with cucumbers (ji chao huangguarding)

home-preserved chillies Hunan-style - 
just chopped red chillies and a pantagruelian salt portion!

It think it's pretty clear from recent posts that I've got a lot of love for Fuscia Dunlop's Sichuan Cooking. But my enthusiasm for Szechuan (and Hunanese) food knows no bounds at the moment so I also picked up from Amazon's new-and-used section Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook by Ellen Shrecker and the eponymous Mrs. Jung-Feng Chiang and The Good Food of Szechwan by Robert A. Delfs. The former is quite good whilst the latter I would not recommend purchasing.

Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook contains lots of classic dishes from the region, plus a few extra that aren't in FD's book like lion-head meatballs and some simple stir-fry combos like this cucumber and chicken one. The layout is slightly vexing, with the ingredients listed alongside the cooking directions so you have to scan the whole thing to get a sense of what's actually in it. But I think it's got potential to augment if not supplant Sichuan Cooking. (As an aside, the spelling 'Szechuan' is favoured in these two older American texts, whilst elsewhere you see 'Sichuan'. I have uses the former option is I think it looks nice with the zed, but I'm not sure how good a reason that is. I guess there is no clear transliteration.)

Cooking cucumber has certainly been one of the revelations of getting into Szechuan food. So I liked the look of this simple recipe - chicken stir-fried with cucumbers and some classic flavourings of the region. 

If you want to try the home salted chillies at the top of the page just chop some fresh red Indian type chillies and pour quite a lot of salt on to them (maybe 5-7% of their weight). Give them two weeks to mature. They might need a quick rinse to get some salt of before going into the food.
  • 1/3 cucumber per person
  • one chicken breast per person
  • two spring-onions per person
  • five cloves of garlic per person
  • Shaoxing wine, cornflour, pickled chilli, soy sauce, sugar, salt

    Slice the chicken and spring onion into similar sized pieces. You can see the size I went for, although the more authentic version in the book is based on quite small pieces. Marinade with the Shaoxing wine, a large dash of light soy sauce, pickled chilli, a pinch of sugar and another of salt, and a sprinkle of magic thickening dust for thirty minutes or so.

    Cut the cucumber into similar size pieces after eviscerating it with a teaspoon. Sprinkle with salt and leave to express its liquid if you have time. Otherwise just use as it is: I've often done this without any problems.

    Fry the cucumber for a couple of minutes to break the rawness and set to one side. Reheat the oil and add the garlic. Fry for thirty seconds. Add the chicken and spring-onion mixture and fry until it's cooked (only a few minutes). Tip the cucumbers back in and bring it back to full heat. Put in another slosh of soy sauce if you fancy. Serve.

    there's some noodles under here, honest guv

    It's quite a mild one this. You might not be satisfied if you're looking for a hot and fat chilli blast or associated numbing. But the ingredients definitely combine to make something more than the sum of their parts - something almost sweet and undoubtedly moreish.