21 November 2011

Chickpeas with saltfish, tomatoes, garlic and kale

Assemblages. They are the business. Not quite salads, stews or anything else, assemblages are the pragmatists' favourite - a type of mixed dish which can take everything from fridge skulking vegetables to the finest of treat produce. With something filling and carbohydrate based in the mix they constitute an entire, discrete meal. Beautiful.

This cracking dish is from a small River Cafe fish book and centres around three central earthy ingredients: saltfish, chickpeas and kale.

  • saltfish
  • chickpeas
  • kale
  • tomatoes
  • garlic, dried chilli, olive oil

The night before you cook put the chickpeas in a bowl of boiling water. They are so central to this dish that it's worth the bother of soaking your own. When the cooking has started in earnest put the chickpeas on to boil - they'll need about forty minutes. Put your saltfish through three boils of cold water and see how salty it is. It may need one more.

Chop loads of garlic and and slowly cook in plenty of olive oil with a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes. After ten minutes add the chilli to taste. When the saltfish is satisfactorily de-desalinated push the tomatoes to one side of the pan and briefly fry the fish in the flavoured oil. Meantime, cook your kale down in some water until tender; ready your chickpeas. Combine everything in something big and add a splash of sherry vinegar and another of olive oil. I also chucked in some nice, sharp rocket. Lashings of pepper also advisable.

A wonderful mix. In turn resistant and giving - taste sweet and salt, iron and pepper. One might easily make it vegetarian compatible by using some nice grilled halloumi instead of the fish. On a similar tip the St John cookbook has an assemblage of tomatoes, boiled potatoes, roast garlic, roast tomatoes, saltfish, chopped boiled egg and parsley which is also amazing and probably next on my list as I bought three packs of saltfish for a fiver.


11 November 2011

Aubergine and bread salad +

This was one of those spur of the moments meal. I'd been down to Ridley Road and picked up a bag of baby aubergines for £1. (Yes: one pound for about fifteen or so hand length aubergines). Also four packets of beautiful baby plum tomatoes for a pound and a load of dirt cheap fennel. Crazy.

So I got back and pottered about with the back of my brain wondering what to cook for lunch: Szechuan aubergines, curry, some sort of soup... How about just sticking the aubergines and tomatoes on to roast and then chucking together a salad? Ok, let's give it a go.

  • baby aubergine
  • cherry tomatoes
  • fennel or some other raw veg
  • flatbread
  • feta or salad cheese
  • yoghurt, garlic, pomegranite molasses, lemon juice, olive oil and sherry vinegar

 Roast the aubergines and tomatos with olive oil for thirty minutes or so

Meantime: chop the fennel or other raw salad veg. I advise going for something with a little crunch here to contrast with the soft and silken vegetables. Roughly chop or mash your cheese (I used a cheap, mild Turkish salad cheese which was 1/4 the price of feta).

When the veg is half done in the oven put in your flat-bread (I used wholemeal pittas to nice effect). The aim is crisp them up and put them in the salad fattoush style. When they are getting semi-crisp take them out and chop roughly. Add to the veg and cheese. Dress with a bit of olive oil and stir. The bread will start to absorb the essence of the vegetables, especially via the liquid insides of the tomatoes.

Mix the yoghurt dressing - 80% yoghurt, 7% water, 7% olive oil, 4% pomegranate molasses and 2% sherry vinegar. Add one clove of garlic chopped very fine and some salt and coarse black pepper.

Layer up the salad base with the bread, put on top the roast veg and then dress liberally.

some preserved lemons would also work here with the cheese and bread

Very nice, though I say so myself, and substantial enough for a complete lunch. The roast vegetables are still warm, rich and comforting, the fennel faintly regal and stand-offish, the bread the doughty workhorse of the piece. A nice balance.

7 November 2011

Two ways with hot and nutty vegetables, Szechuan style

I'm blogging these two together as they are variations on a theme. Like the kindling noodles I cooked earlier this year, and heartily recommend, the selling point here is the combination of rich and oil nuts and/or seeds with chilli and vegetables. Sesame oil is used pretty widely in Chinese cooking for frying and flavouring and I know sesame paste is also utilized. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like but I've used tahini successfully in stir-frys and the like and it's ended up pretty well every time. All you need then is a load of vegetables and the rest of the ingredients take care of themselves - dried noodles or rice from the cupboard, sesame paste, chilli oil / dried chilli / pickled chillis, maybe a few nuts or preserved vegetables to liven things up and you're good to go. All things from the store cupboard. Crack a few eggs into the veg at the end if you're looking for more protein.

watch out for this type of pickled chilli - it's by far my favourite type so far and available in Chinatown - at about £1.50 it's worth stockpiling

pretty hedgehog patterns
  • mixture of peppers OR loads of sliced up aubergines
  • tahini, pickled chillies
  • soy sauce, shaoxing wine
  • garlic
  • mix of peanuts, walnuts and sesame seeds
Toast your seeds and nuts lightly in a pan for a few minutes, keeping an eye on any burning.

Fry your peppers or aubergines with some veg oil. With the aubergines it's of course essential to get them really soft and silky. I did this by putting a bit of water in with them and adding a lid - this ends up half steaming and half frying them. Do what ever works for you.

When the veg has started to cook down add a couple of teaspoons of tahini, a few shakes of soy sauce and your choice of chilli heat. Taste and adjust. Chuck in some other vegetables if you fancy - shredded cabbage went very well with the peppers, giving a textural foil and preventing monotony.

When the veg seems nearly cooked add your toasted nuts and again taste and tweak the seasoning as you see fit. Serve with noodles or flat bread if feeling lazy.

To compliment the sesame paste strategically deploy some sesame oil too.

Hot-and-nutty is up there combo wise with the holy mix of Szechuan food - the hot-and-numbing mala. I'm sure there must be a proper Chinese name for it if anyone knows..? Regardless, from satay, to West African peanut soups to Chinese sesame kindling noodles it's doing it for me big time.

2 November 2011

Sea bream with spiced couscous

I've just been to Hastings. As well as checking Bexhill's excellent De La Warr Pavilion I was kindly gifted three fish (two bream, one bass) by someone big in the sea-fishing game with a big freezer and a kind heart. I took them home frozen: stiff and leaden and kept cool on the sluggish journey back to Liverpool St. with frozen bottles of water. With one bream and one bass somehow stuffed into the freezer for future use I left a bream out to cook the following day.

I'd been instructed to cook the sea bream simply and after reading about it's geographical spread and presence in the Mediterranean as well as the South of England I opted for something vaguely Middle Eastern and fairly faff-less to go with it. Couscous mixed with preserved lemons, chickpeas and cauliflower, flavoured with cumin and dried chilli and dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar.

  • sea bream or similar
  • couscous
  • can of chickpeas
  • cauliflower
  • olive oil, sherry vinegar
  • preserved lemons, cumin, dried chilli

    Put your cauliflower florets in boiling water until cooked (but still with a good crunch). Rehydrate your couscous. Chop some preserved lemons. Toast some whole cumin and chilli flakes (can't recommend Turkish kirmizi biber highly enough in this department). Open a can of chickpeas and rinse them. Combine everything in a bowl and stir. Perk with oil and vinegar. Sorted.

    Chickpeas in couscous are wicked! Such a great switch-up texture wise. I'd recommend heartily. The other ingredients are your standard middle eastern-ish flavours and gel nicely. This mix is best served warm but not hot.

    Grill your fish (with a sprinkle of salt and a little lick of olive oil) and serve with the couscous.

    Delicious! Sea bream is quite a meaty fish - a nice white dense meat with an appealingly moderate flavour. I think grilling it is a good choice which allows the fish itself to be foregrounded and focussed upon. I might try roasting its twin or frying it in steaks, as the one thing grilling leads to is a lack of crispy bits.

    Thanks for the fish Shaun.