I’ve been working on several pieces for the Brixton Blog over the last few weeks about what different cultures and nationalities do for Christmas and my attention was particularly drawn to pastelles from Trinidad as these parcels of filled cornmeal steamed in a banana leaf sounded like the perfect way to try out my new electric steamer-slow cooker in style. I’ve also always wanted to use banana leaves and I’d never seen them until now to buy. If you can’t get them, then wrap your pastelles in greaseproof paper instead. These are traditionally eaten on Christmas Day but I think they’d be a great way to use leftovers in style so I’m publishing the recipe today so you can buy cornmeal alongside your Big Shop you’ll be doing later…
Recently in my travels round Brixton, I keep coming across Americans who now live here. It’s testament to what a great area Brixton is that many of them say it’s the best neighbourhood they’ve ever lived in and my recipe here is partly inspired by them. But its mainly inspired by my determination not to shudder slightly whenever I see piles of okra on the stalls in the market. I’ve only ever eaten it once when I was a child and was singularly unimpressed by its slimy texture and have avoided it ever since. But encouraged by African friends who consider it a kitchen staple and those Americans who all responded affirmatively when I mentioned it, I’ve decided to give you my melting pot take on it and like the good Belfast girl I am, fry it. I mean, what food doesn’t taste even better when fried?
I’m branching out a bit here and using cornmeal instead of a batter. I’ve only recently discovered this as a coating for things and can’t get enough of its crunchy crispness, preferably dipped in something spicy and delicious. A firey salsa made with the super sweet vine tomatoes that are perfectly in season right now, some smoked garlic and a burst of red onion would take this from side dish to star attraction at dinner, especially with an ice cold beer to accompany it…
- about 200g of okra, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 200g yellow cornmeal (also called polenta if you’re looking for it)
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder/cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- seasoning as required.
- vegetable oil for frying
Get your oil on to heat, making sure you only fill your pan a third full of oil so it can’t bubble over. You want it hot but not scorching.
When buying the okra, make sure the pods are nice and furry and not split at all. Wash them and dry them well. Cut each pod in roughly three pieces. Then dip the pieces into the beaten egg before putting them into the cornmeal and making sure they are well coated. Don’t hang about, do both dippings quickly and put them into the oil immediately to cook. Give them about 2-3 minutes each side or until the okra and the coating both go golden.
Serve immediately, preferably dipped into a little hot sauce and salt. We had them on the side of some curry goat, but these fried okra will go with anything and make a great gluten free vegetarian dish. If like me, you were nervous about the slime potential, don’t be. Fried up like this, it’s a good balance between soft and crunchy and I surprised myself by having seconds, as did my American dining companion…
*An edited version of this post originally appeared at Brixton Blog.
I like a bit of fine dining as much as anyone, but sometimes one’s tastes run a bit more on the casual side of things. I don’t mean I ever want to eat a Prawn Ring or kebab meat again and I believe ready meals to be a waste of calories. But I do have a soft spot for the kind of comfort food that borders on junk, especially that brand of Americana popularised by Nigella recently.
So when Mister North was down recently, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge some homemade delights that would make a dietician weep. I’d been lusting after deep fried pickles ever since a Southern friend told me about them a few years back. Seeing Homesick Texan and Food Stories‘ recipes for them put them at the top of my to try list.
I dialled down the trashy vibe and put myself in the running for a pretentiousness award by growing my own gherkins and pickling them myself specially. (If this makes you eye roll at the sheer foodiness of it all, be comforted by the fact they didn’t taste that different to a Mrs Elswood.) Horticulturally experiments aside, these babies are super simple. I got cultured buttermilk in Sainsbury’s, but you could use yoghurt watered down instead. Do not feel tempted to substitute cream crackers for saltines. You’ll end up crying into your hot oil as all the moisture in your mouth evaporates. I used coarse cornmeal instead.
Heat your oil while you do the flour, egg, dip thing with the pickles. Fry for about a minute each side and then serve piping hot on the side of something delicious. In our case it was some leftover rollmops, a zingy homemade ranch style dressing with buttermilk, tarragon and garlic and a beer on the side. It was a heavenly plate of tanginess, crunch and sheer gluttony. I want to eat all gherkins in a crunchy coating now.
You’d think that plateful would have quelled our cravings for pig-out style food for the day, but you’d be wrong. About an hour later, we started getting ready to make a serious pizza for dinner. We used Marcella Hazan’s pizza dough recipe, leaving it to prove for several hours and turned our attention to the mozzarella. And I don’t just mean jiggling it about the bag in a slightly smutty fashion, I mean making it from scratch…
Using some non-homogenised cow’s milk from Alham Wood Farms at Brixton Farmers’ Market, my fledgling cheese making skills, some citric acid that we explored all of Brixton for* and my trusty bottle of rennet, we created mozzarella magic. Surprisingly easy, especially if you have asbestos hands like Mister North for dipping the curds into the hot whey, we ended up with two beautiful bouncing balls of mozzarella in no time at all.
Buoyed by this, we turned to the pizza bases, lovingly dressing them with homemade sauce courtesy of Mister North and a glut of Blackpool tomatoes and an umami hit of anchovies, green olives, some of my home grown plum tomatoes and a finishing sprinkle of ham salt from Comfort and Spice. Unfortunately made giddy by the cheese achievement, we forgot to dust the worksurfaces with semolina as instructed and the bases stuck somewhat, leading to some creativity with a fishslice and a slightly concertina style pizza.
The pizza might have lacked finesse, but it was loaded with flavour. The tomatoes tasted of summer and the mozzarella was so soft and fresh I could have eaten the whole ball like an apple to fully enjoy the texture. It needed a touch more salt and I think it would have been even better with buffalo milk, but for a first go, it was pretty amazing.
We devoured the pizzas like kids at a sleepover, both wishing we’d had more of the mozzarella to do a tomato salad with or go retro and deep fry in a crispy coating like the gherkins. Instead we rounded off a day of gluttony with a cheeky bowl of Veda bread ice cream and a glass of wine or two, proving that sometimes the taste of home is all you need. Your own kitchen provides the greatest comfort.
*Try the Nour Cash and Carry if you need it Monday to Saturday and the Low Price Food & Wine on the corner of Brixton Road and Loughborough Road on a Sunday. We did the walking round so you don’t have to.