28 September 2011

Congee Mk 4 - spiced pumpkin

Funny how sometimes you can throw together a few things in a saucepan whilst pottering around doing a bit of pollyfiller-ing and cleaning and suddenly there's sublime dinner waiting for you, silky and steaming on the kitchen table. After the mega faff of the partridge congee which wasn’t that great this version took about ten minutes of prep and maybe an hour and a quarter of quiet puttering on the hob. It’s the simplest congee I’ve made so far, and definitely the nicest.

The basic idea is to flavour the rice with sweet pumpkin or squash and then judiciously add minimal additions to bring it to its peak.

  • three small handfuls long grain rice
  • a butternut squash or equivalent slab of pumpkin
  • preserved vegetables
  • chilli oil, soy sauce, white pepper, cinnamon or cassia
  • a little bit of something green

Put your rice in a pot and add water. I think you need about five times as much as you would normally use to cook rice. Add a piece of cinnamon (which compliments the sweetness of the pumpkin incredibly). Simmer for forty minutes until the rice starts to break down.

Add the pumpkin or squash in cubes and continue cooking. Monitor water levels. After twenty minutes help mash down the pumpkin - the texture of the mixture should be silky and the grains of rice almost invisible as individual entities.

Add the preserved vegetables - I went for black fungus above and some Tianjin ones shown up top. Preserved vegetables are a god-send for Chinese food and you should keep some in the cupboard at all times.

Season with soy sauce for salt, then sesame oil, then lavishly dose with your favourite chilli oil.

deep, brindled gold flecked with red

It probably needs something green at this point to make it a bit more balanced so I added some peas to this after the picture was taken.

21 September 2011

Cucumber with malt vinegar

When I was a kid we used to sometimes have cucumber sliced very thin with malt vinegar. It was something that my mum had got from some elderly family friends who fled Poland as refugees in the 1940s.

My estate has a a community garden and vegetable patch. It has had some vegetables (tomatoes, pumpkins) planted in which is great, and though it needs a bit (quite a lot in fact) of TLC there were some cucumbers successfully getting fat and old that I managed to pick. These aren't your long smooth Dutch class of cucumber, but a specially spiked fatman variety, more like the little Middle Eastern ones. These four have been left a bit too long on the vine so the seeds had got hard and slightly unpleasant. Not a problem, I just scooped out the middle.

Slice your cucumber as thin as possible and add lots of malt vinegar. Sprinkle over a little sea salt . That's all. That's your lot.

For bonus points serve on a plate with an pre-eminent British general.

General Lord Kitchener of Khartoum

19 September 2011

Torn bread & lamb soup (yang rou pao mo - 羊肉泡饃)

As with the recent pork tacos, my interest is often piqued by recipes on blogs. Having had a bash at Xinjiang's signature dish Da Pan Ji I thought this soup on the excellent Sunflower Food Galore blog looked like another good idea in terms of that area's cuisine. However, upon reading more closely I realised it is from Xian and not Xinjiang. A totally different part of the country. What fooled me was the lamb and flat-bread, usually associated with the bit of China bordering the central Asian states. I need to investigate fully. 

Anyhow, it appealed. An aromatic lamb stock + torn bread  + some extras is a great combination that recalls other classic bread using soups such as ribollita. Why waste stale bread when you can make it in to wicked soup?

wood-ears and lilly buds

So, I won't repeat the recipe as it's in the original link. First you need to make the stock. I used lamb scrag for cheapness and savour. The stock is flavoured with the staples of Chinese broths - cooking wine, ginger, spring-onions, fennel seeds, star anise, cassia and false (or Chinese) cardamom (chao guo). It's a similar mix to that which flavoured my sour fish soup and partridge congee. It'll need a good 2 hours +. Remove the bones, pick them over and reserve the meat.

The stock may look rather disagreeable whilst bubbling away, coloured as it is by weird scum from the lamb bones. Once it is strained (muslin is pretty much essential here I'm afraid) it becomes much more attractive.




Next you need to get everything ready to add to the stock. For my sins I went for pittas over the home-made bread option. Wood ears (which resemble human skin quite creepily) and lily buds need a soak. Lilly buds were new on me (available at the super, and ever dependable Yu Xiao in Dalston) and have a nice, mild flavour and pleasing, giving texture.

Chop you bread into bits and chop some spring onion and garlic. When the stock is ready add the bread, chopped wood ear, spring onion, a little garlic and the lily buds. Flavour the stock with some light soy sauce, cooking wine and Chinkiang vinegar. When the garlic has lost some rawness add the last parts - the lamb pieces, coriander, chilli oil and seasame oil to taste. Serve.

This soup has a lot going on for it. The bread is amazing, slowly moving from crisp, through pliable and limp into mushy territory. All enjoyable states for soup based bread I think. The scrag meat is incredible tender and flavoursome. However, I'm not sure I quite nailed the stock. It was nice but not exactly bursting with flavour so I think next time I'll cook the bones for longer and maybe at a slightly higher temperature.

8 September 2011

Pork tacos with orange and chilli

There are some recipes you see, whether in the weekend papers or on food blogs, that strike an immediate chord. You know if you cook it you're gonna love it. Standard. Since my favourite type of food is probably tough bits of meat cooked to tenderness and wonderment in soups, stews and casseroles Food Stories' pork cheeks with orange and smoky chilli was always destined to do it for me. I've only just got around to making my own version and confirm it's bloody tasty.

I couldn't get my hands on any cheeks, so to speak, so I made do with some pork shoulder. Likewise, I didn't have blood oranges, so I squeezed a few mandarins into the pot at the appropriate time. I also added garlic because... well, you don't have to justify garlic do you. A friend had given me a jam jar of mixed chillies from Mexico (thanks Jim) so I had the readies in that department at least. I have no idea what type they are but the one on the right had that characteristic tobacco-y smell some have.

  • one kilo of cubed pork shoulder
  • three carrots
  • two onions
  • four mandarins
  • three - five interesting, smoky chillies
  • five garlic cloves
  • one cinnamon stick, five cloves, two bay leaves,
  • sugar, oregano
  • a pinch of stock

Brown the meat.

Soak the chillies in boiling water.

Then fry the carrot and onion in some oil for ten minutes, adding garlic along the way. Add the refreshed chillies, chopped up a bit. Add the meat. Add the oregano, spices and squeeze in the mandarins. Add some water and pinches of stock (big) and sugar (small).

Cook for three hours. Keep tasting and adjust flavouring if necessary. I found that my chillies were not very hot so I stirred in a spoon of Encona hot sauce. It's a good short-cut and doesn't dominate if used judiciously.

I also lifted the idea of the red onions defanged by lime juice. They are the business. Raw onion is one of the very few things I don't like, although some people seem to to add to meat and salads with reckless gusto, and apparently enjoy it. Slice your red onion as thin as possible and squeeze loads of lime over. Stir over an hour with a pinch of sugar and you're sorted. The wonderful freshness and crunch without the horrible harsh linger.

Also a simple raw salsa of cherry tomatoes, coriander, green chilli and a little vinegar, a vegetarian concoction with fresh corn and some refried pinto beans. Bread-wise I went off-piste with some big Lebanese flat-breads because I was getting all my veg in a Turkish shop and didn't fancy the tortilla traipse that tradition impels.

The pork by this point had shredded down a bit into strands, the vegetables had mingled and dissolved with all the spices to form a highly savoury matrix for the meat and the mandarins gave a welcome sweet note. Next time I'll add more chillies, but all in all an easy and very tasty main dish and a wicked dinner.

We enjoyed the food with margaritas and micheladas. I had not tried the latter before and must say they are excellent.

Thanks for the recipe Helen!