29 February 2012

Beans with sorrel and gammon

This is a variant of Ottolenghi's butter bean and sorrel salad. Sorrel is not in too many places but it did crop up on Ridley Road market so I bagged some quick sharp. It turned out being more of a stew than a a salad and was pretty heavily modified with the inclusion of some green chillies and a mix of bean rather than just butter beans.

  • spring onions
  • lots of garlic
  • a few mild fresh chillies
  • beans
  • sorrel
  • feta

Start by frying the garlic, spring onions and chilli in olive oil.

After five minutes add beans of some sort. Right at the end add the sorrel - be warned it discolours quickly and vigorously to a disagreeable pond-green. You can either choose to have it more or less raw and retain its nice colour and texture or accept that it's going to melt in to the background as slime. Here is more what the dish is supposed to look like. Crumble your feta over it at the end and add some salt and pepper.

Beans and pork go together well - it's a natural marriage recognised by all right-headed people around the world. These beans would obviously be great as a salad or side dish but if you add some sort of pork they will do as a full meal. We had it with gammon, but some meaty sausages would be very nice. Sorrel has an extremely unusual sharp-sour taste which dissipates with cooking. It is a pleasantly astringent foil to something a bit blander like the beans, and a leaf I would definitely use again.

27 February 2012

Carrot and apple jam

I made this jam a while ago after foraging a load of apples from a tree growing in a farmer's field in Norfolk. The tree was alone and stood the the edge of the field as if it had grown there by chance, or been seeded by a careless walker's discarded snack. The apples were rotting beneath it. This is the first jam I've ever made.

I've thought carrots would go quite well with the apple in a jam due to their high sugar content - they do after all crop up in Indian sweets and carrot cake. Not being the jamming expert I needed a recipe to follow and found this one online. Its small amount of ingredients and straightforward sounding processes were appealing – I immediately decided to ramp up the ginger to get good harmonies going with the carrot. It does include a silly suggestion of adding a few drops of food colouring to  get a really orange colour which needless to say is not the SDON way at all. So you're going to need -

  • 500g apples
  • 300g carrots
  • a medium - large piece of stem ginger chopped
  • 625g sugar
  • pinches of cinnamon and chilli
  • juice of two lemons

Grate your vegetables - remember the magimix is your friend. Far too arduous to attempt by hand.

Combine all the ingredients and cook down until, well, jammy. Being a novice I went too far here and by the time the jam had later cooled it had gone a bit too solid. It still tastes delicious mind, but it's in semi-solid chunks and not great for spreading. The taste though, is wonderful - extremely sweet, with the toffee-ish texture giving way to caramel, then the warmth of the ginger and finally the sweet shreds of carrot. I think it is slightly too sweet actually, so have lowered the amount of sugar above accordingly.

As well as your standard toast and butter combo this jam went very well with a bit of gruyere - just a smidgeon of jam was enough to set of the nutty cheese very nicely. It's not really so far from the chilli jams that we use in savoury food so I wouldn't be too slavish in only using it for sweet dishes. The other thing it would be sensational in I think is some sort of jammed up treacle tart or sponge pudding....

17 February 2012

Steamed beef with rice meal (fen zheng niu rou)

The idea of steaming meat in a coat of rice flour is one that caught my eye a year or two, before I had even started cooking Sichuan or Hunanese food at home. It was in the form of the excellent Eating Asia's Mizheng Rou. Basically you slow steam meat with a load of spices and smashed up rice and the rice gradually cooks - absorbing the steam, the meat juice and your favoured exciting mix of spices. Meat and rice integrated, prepared together as one like in the great European dishes of risotto of paella.

Having never got around to doing something based on EA's version I ended up doing a version with beef from Land of Plenty. It's a bit more fiddly than, say a mapo tofu, or a braised fish in chilli bean sauce, but ultimately pretty interesting given the new textures brought by the rice and by the steaming.

  • 500g beef
  • ginger, garlic, chilli bean paste, soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil, dash of water or stock - for the marinate
  • dried chillies, Sichuan pepper, sesame oil, raw garlic, spring onions
  • 75g raw rice

Cut the beef into largish, thin squares. Combine with the marinade ingredients and leave for half an hour.

Toast the rice until brittle. When it's cool grind down in a mortar and pestle - half way to a meal like state is fine, so there's still some texture. Add this to the beef and steam it for two hours. The rice will start to fluff up and increase in size. This dish should not be cooked by anyone in a rush as the steaming really does take quite a while.

When its looking ready remove from the steamer and season with all the other ingredients (mash the raw garlic and thin with a little cold water) to your taste. I served this with some more white rice on the side which, looking back on it, was possibly a massive gastro-cultural faux pas.

A load of your favourite greens stir-fried with garlic and dressed with sesame oil and Chinkiang vinegar is more or less obligatory here in my opinion. Sprouts, courgette and cavalo nero in this case but obviously grab whatever's in your fridge.

So - does it cut the mustard? I don't rate this one quite as highly as some of the other Sichuan dishes I've got to say. I love the idea of it - cooking meat with veg makes perfect sense in a rice heavy Chinese cuisine and clearly works fantastically with congee. The rice makes it all a bit heavy and slightly claggy, somehow lacking the clean hit of a high-powered spiced and peppered stir-fry. Eating Asia suggest putting some root vegetable or pumpkin in with the meat which I think could act as a useful counterpoint. One to retry then, with some belly pork and pumpkin perhaps...

13 February 2012

Poached baby vegetables with caper mayonnaise

Apologies crew but I broke my arm and have been out of action for a week or so. Straight back to the thick of it, though, with another Ottolenghi from Plenty. I'll say straight up that this one isn't as good as some of the other crackers, but it might be worth a look if this kind of thing tickles your fancy. Check the original recipe.

  • baby vetables - fennel, carrot, leek, asparagus etc
  • one egg, vegetable and olive oil, lemon, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard for the mayonnaise
  • white wine, olive oil and bay leaves for the poaching liquor

Baby vegetables are something that may well set you back a bit normally. I was lucky to get a load of them cheap from Ridley Road and I supplemented them with a few adult vegetables in the form of carrots and courgettes.

First up make your mayonnaise. Use your normal method: I'm a self-confessed failure in this area, for some reason mine is often thin and fails to coagulate. The key here is for it to be very lemony and to chuck some capers in at the end. Regardless of the overall success of the dish the mayo is amazing, and should be used in other circumstance.

Next fix up your veg - Otto suggests poaching them in a mixture of white wine and olive oil. This is a nice idea but kind of wasteful. All the oil he calls for also makes things greasy when combined with the oil of the veg. I think some stock with lemon and bay and gestures of oil and wine is ok. Poach until done but with a slight crunch.

Serve with your preferred starch - grain/potato/bread with the veg, a dollop of mayo and a little ladle of stock. This responds well to some black pepper.
that's lunch sorted

A slight faff this one. It doesn't quite have the attractive simplicity of some other Ottolenghi dishes, what with the poaching and mayonnaising processes. It is, though, rather pretty, and might be a nice dinner party dish for an elegant starter. As I said, the lemon tinged mayo is a wonder and would be sublime with a lump of fish or some courgette burgers.