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Potatoes with fenugreek & lovage; onion & lovage bhajis on the side

Ah, lovage. Blessed with the kind of name which conjures up images of old-fashioned English cottage gardens, nestled next to lavender, it was a herb I’d heard of but until last year I’d not cooked with, until Deanna Thomas gifted me with a generous bunch from her garden. You rarely see it for sale so it’s a herb best used from home-grown if you can manage to source it from a friend, or nurture your own. By all accounts it grows voraciously, so if you do have a patch, you may wonder how to use it up.

When I did start to use it, I was initially thrown by how to play to its strengths. I was delighted and confused in equal measure by its curious ‘curry meets celery’ characteristics… a robust savoury flavour, and it holds its shape and body better than parsley, but I couldn’t find many recipes which excited me. Last year I made an experiemental lovage pesto, served with grilled sardines and lemon juice, but the rest of my stash went into the stockpot and I never felt I’d taken full advantage of its full potential.

This year I was determined to make the most of lovage’s late spring delights, and thought it might work well with some south Asian flavours. A quick look online referenced ajwain seeds in Indian cooking, but despite common misperception these aren’t the same as lovage seeds. Despite not finding a great deal of precedent, I didn’t think I could go far wrong, so on a wet midweek evening last week I got busy in the kitchen for an hour, making a hearty veggie meal for myself and a mate who’d dropped round. Few things counter the soggy evening blues better than grinding your own spices and making something with a touch of spice.

The fenugreek & potato dish has become a firm favourite over the last six months, fuelled by a discovery of fresh fenugreek (alternatively labelled ‘methi’). As mentioned before, I’ve been inspired by Anirudh Arora’ recipes in ‘Food of the Grand Trunk Road‘ and one recipe which leapt out was Aloo Methi Ka Saag. It’s quick and easy compared to many of the recipes in the book, and it’s healthy and good for veggie guests.

I’ve always loved saag aloo, but was really intrigued by the inclusion of fresh methi in this take of a simple classic. Fresh fenugreek has small ovoid leaves and a mild aroma, and can be found in many asian groceries. However it seems to wilt incredibly quickly, even if kept in the fridge in water, so I’ve found it’s best to make this on the day of purchase if possible. You can wash and freeze the leaves: though it seems to tone the flavour down at least it’s a good fallback if you fancy a quick fenugreek hit.

However – and I’ll try to be delicate here – I’ve discovered that fenugreek does have a peculiar ‘characteristic’ which means you’re likely to be reminded of it for a day or two after consumption. Somewhat like the effect asparagus has on some people, the malodorous qualities are longer-lasting and tend to permeate from a variety of regions. It seems this is a common side-effect, and is known on mother and baby forums as fenugreek seeds are used for stimulating milk supply. Not sure I make the connection with maple syrup though…

Finally, I’ve had my cockles warmed by the hitherto unknown delights of panch phoran – a Bengali five spice mix – thanks to Rice & Pickle’s mango pickle recipe she posted a few months ago. Days after reading her recipe, while the name was still fresh in my mind, I stumbled across a pack of this mix in Unicorn, and have been adding it to dishes ever since. As it contains fenugreek seeds it has a particular affinity to fresh methi, and has proven itself to be another reliable addition to the larder shelves.

Over the years I’ve tried a few different recipes for onion bhajis, but have found this from Daxa Dashani on the BBC website is reliably reproducible. However I tend to increase the amount of onion in the recipe, using a couple of decent sized onions to add more bulk. I also dry roast and then grind the panch phoran, adding it to the mix before letting the batter rest. Instead of the spinach in the recipe you can substitute this for other greens: earlier this spring I used wild garlic, and here I used lovage leaves, chopped roughly. This recipe makes around a dozen bhajis, depending how generous you are with the mix. Make sure you drain the bhajis well after cooking, sitting them on kitchen paper or napkins to remove any excess cooking oil.

The final dishes were great (and disappeared in no time between two hungry lads): the lovage gave an extra savoury depth to the bhajis, but was less obvious in the aloo methi. I used a scotch bonnet chilli in the aloo methi, but cautiously removed it before serving. As I’d used smoked paprika rather than chilli the spice flavour was more muted than when I’ve made this previously, so I served it with some hot sauce on the side. A breezy fresh salsa or a fiery lime pickle would be an even better choice.

Best served with some raita, a chutney (which I overlooked on this occasion…doh!) and a glass of good Indian Pale Ale. Fast, fresh and healthy!

Potatoes with fenugreek and lovage
(based on a recipe by Anirudh Arora)

  • 3 bunches of fenugreek
  • 1 handful lovage leaves
  • 30ml vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon panch phoran
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika or chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 green chillies or 1 scotch bonnet, sliced into lengths
  • 1″/2.5cm length of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
  • 8-10 new potatoes, sliced… or several larger potatoes roughly diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a decent squirt of tomato purée
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • Coriander leaves to garnish
Remove the methi leaves, then wash well and chop. Dry with kitchen paper and leave to one side.
Heat half the oil in a wok and add half the cumin seeds until they snap, crackle and pop. Add the methi leaves and stir until they start to wilt down, then remove and set aside to cool.
Add the rest of the oil and heat, adding the rest of the cumin seeds. Once they start to crackle, chuck in the ginger and chillies and sauté well for a minute. Add the coriander, salt, turmeric and chilli/paprika, stir and cook down for a couple of minutes, then add the spuds. I tend to turn the heat right down and cover the wok, letting everything cook through slowly for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are just starting to give.
Stir through the tomato purée and cook for a further few minutes, then add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the garam masala. Finish with a garnish of chopped coriander leaves, and enjoy.

How does your garden grow?

The long cold winter seems like just a memory here in London (apologies to our  less lucky Northern readers!) and my little garden has been responding well to the fabulous warm sunny weather we been having since late June with things starting to crop abundantly… Read more

Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!

Home grown goodness

Spring is finally in the air and my thought are turning to what I will grow in my little garden this year. I have a small patio that is a perfect sun trap for pots and taking inspiration from Landshare and London’s Guerrilla Gardeners, I have commandeered the flowerbed outside my flat since the council has given up tending it. This gives me a manageable amount of space to grow my own fruit, veg and herbs each summer in a attempt to cut food miles, save money and eat fresh produce that actually tastes of something! Read more