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Watermelon Rind Pickles

Watermelon pickles

I bet you didn’t know you could pickle the green rinds from the watermelon until now unless you happen to be from the Southern states of the USA and living in Brixton currently….

I discovered this because I’ve been buying so much watermelon recently. The stall under the on the corner of Pope’s Road and Atlantic Road by the Village is selling massive hunks of it for a mere pound and I can’t stop myself. (Nor can I resist the bargain cherries and flat peaches.) I felt wasteful simply tossing the rind in the bin as it doesn’t compost. So I was delighted to discover you can pickle it and end up with something as crunchy as cucumber but a little bit different for once.

Originally published at Brixton Blog….

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Squirrel Street Food Style: Satay and Sliders

Wild squirrel sliders, pickles and ketchup in home-made buns

Mister North and I have long had a slightly competitive game where we try to buy each other the oddest and most interesting  presents possible. This is why I own ice tongs and he once had his own jellyfish at London Zoo. So the bar was quite high last Christmas. I needed something for the foodie who has everything and the answer came to me when I found a company who can supply wild meat and I realised  Mister North would very much be the person to appreciate a brace of squirrel in his stocking…

Sense prevailed and I decided not to send him the beasts over the festive period in case they went a-wandering and sat in a depot somewhere if the weather was bad, but promised them at a time of his choosing. When he announced he was coming down to London last week for a bit of culture, we agreed this was the perfect time for Tufty to visit. We decided to try and do the squirrels different ways to get the maximum impact from what is a fairly small animal. Mister North suggested squirrel satay as soon as the present was mentioned and I then took a notion to do squirrel sliders and see if I could convince myself they are more than mini-burgers.

Although the satay was Mister North’s idea, I volunteered myself to make it so I could show off the satay skills I got after attending a Brunei Malay cooking class with Siti Merrett at Books For Cooks last summer. If, like me, you know little of this cuisine, I recommend Siti’s book Coconuts and Kelupis as both the beef in soya sauce and the satay are amazing. The following recipe is my version of her satay. The Malay version does not contain the coconut of Thai versions, so don’t be surprised not to see it. If you really like the creaminess of coconut, I guess you could add it. Try not to be scared by the list of ingredients, the recipe is actually very simple!

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Sticky, spicy ribs for a brilliant Bánh mì sandwich

Banh mi ribs 13

There’s been a bag of Porcus pork ribs in my freezer for the last couple of months, hiding under a furze of frost, waiting for the right recipe. Last weekend they received their calling when, leafing through the ‘Ginger Pig Meat Book‘ which I got for Christmas, out leapt an intriguingly simple recipe for spare ribs. Sounded perfect for bits of a ginger pig.

Over the years I’ve had a few goes at making slow-cooked, succulent sticky ribs – the last time was in the autumn, when I cooked them under foil at gas mark 1 overnight, before uncovering and getting a quick blast under the grill. They were good, but not gooey and crisp like proper BBQ ribs should be. Not enough time marinading beforehand, letting the flavours permeate every sinew of the meat. Miss South and I went to Bodeans in Clapham a couple of years ago, and enjoyed massive mounds of BBQ meat, and I’ve had good ribs in the States, but was never able to replicate that kind of taste at home. Until now.

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Pickles and Pizza

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.

In a pickle…

Anyone who knows me in real life knows I have a bit of a gherkin habit. I am more than slightly obsessed by these nobbly bobbly warty little cucumbers spiked with a mouth puckering hit of vinegar and hopefully a lingering hit of dill. My idea of a treat is a jar of Krakus Pickled Dill Cucumbers and a fork in front of the TV of an evening. I suffer envy as green as a gherkin at the fact all sandwiches and burgers come with a pickle in the USA while we lag behind here. In extreme cases (ie: a hangover), I have been known to go to McDonalds and buy a double cheeseburger just for the gherkins, rather than the burger. It was therefore inevitable that I would have to try growing my own this year…

I got some Gherkin National seeds off Ebay since this is supposed to be an easy to grow variety that is perfect for pickling and planted five of the ten seeds in one of my raised beds in about mid May. I probably should have sprouted them indoors where it was warmer and less challenging for them as only one plant came up. It became quite tall quite quickly and drank up huge amounts of water but seemed to do very little in the way of producing fruit until one day last week when I looked at it again and discovered one little spiny gherkin nestled in under the leaves! I harvested it with intense pride and wondered how feasible it was to pickle one cucumber?

The famous gherkin!

Luckily though I brought it back over to Ireland with me to show off to my mum (and anyone else around) and discovered that she had picked some other smallish cucumbers at a friend’s house (along with the marrow) and it was a bit more worthwhile trying my hand at pickling a job lot of cukes. Being fairly new to this pickling malarkey and somewhat impatient to try the fruits of my labour while I was still in Belfast, I eschewed more traditional recipes that take around a month to mature and went for an overnight recipe I had picked up from a fellow commenter on an American website I read.

To make your own quick pickles, you can follow this recipe. Even with the cup measurements, it is very easy!

2 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon dill seed
8 cups cucumbers, sliced but not peeled. (This is approx. 4 large cucumbers, in my experience)
1 cup onion, sliced

1. Stir sugar in the vinegar until dissolved. Add salt, celery salt, and dill seed, mixing together.
2. Pour over cucumbers and onions.
3. Stir and push under liquid
4. Let stand for 24 hours, covered at room temperature
5. Put in jars and refrigerate.
6. No need to can, just keep in refrigerator. They will keep indefinitely.

NOTE: Even though it seems like you don’t have enough liquid at first, in several hours you will have enough liquid to cover the cucumbers!

In keeping with the pioneer spirit of making this most American of side dishes, I went off recipe a bit. My mum didn’t have any fennel or dill seeds in the house, so I used caraway and coriander seed instead for a similar flavour. There was no type of vinegar specified, so I used 2/3 cider vinegar and 1/3 malt vinegar to stop the pickles being too sharp. I also used a few shallots rather than an onion. They would also take crushed garlic or chili peppers very well if you fancy that.

It took about five minutes to chop, measure and stir everything together in a large plastic mixing bowl. I then covered them with a teatowel and a plate and literally forgot about them for two days while I was preoccupied with other things. When I came across them again they had released lots of liquid and were very well covered. The cucumbers looked more the texture of pickles than something served in an English sandwich and I was very pleased with the excellent looking results for such minimal efforts.

I bottled the majority of them in the leftover sterilised jars from the quince jelly and served those that were left over with a rather good steak sandwich using minute steak from The Well Hung Meat Company. And even if I do say so myself, the pickles were spectacular. Firm and juicy with an excellent crunch, they are quite a sweet pickle and the hint of caraway worked beautifully with the sugar. Accompanied by rare steak and black pepper they were perfect. Sweet, but sour at the same time and absolutely packed with flavour without the overpowering vinegariness that some commercial gherkins have. We loved them and have served them three or four times since with cold meats and cheese.

These are the easiest thing in the world to do and if you happen to have a few jars knocking about and access to some small homegrown cucumbers, preferably the warty knobbly less watery ones than you see in a supermarket, then you’d be a fool not to whip a batch of these up! Apparently they keep very well, but I doubt the rest are even going to see the weekend with me around. See you all at Gherkins Anonymous!