Homemade umami powder

Homemade Umami Powder

Homemade umami powder

I mentioned last week that I am obsessed with salty savoury umami things, usually in the shape of anchovies. This is partly for health reasons and partly because I just love those deep fifth taste flavours.

I occasionally worry that I’m desensitizing myself to them as I increase the amounts of umami in my diet constantly. Where one anchovy would have sufficed in a dish, I’m up to four at a time and adding seasoning as well.

I half expect that soon like I’ll just install a salt lick by the front door like I’m a horse and start dropping anchovy fillets straight down my throat like an insatiable salt seeking penguin.

I’ve dabbled with parmesan, done a bit of nutritional yeast, tried the No 5 Umami range by Laura Santtini and worked my way up through the levels of miso and still I just need a little bit more….

This week I was looking to cook for a vegan friend (which an event and a half when all our dietary requirements combine) and looking for ways to add flavour without animal produce, stumbled across the idea of ‘vegan parmesan’ on Serious Eats.

Made by dehydrating green olives, miso and fresh rosemary and blending them to a powder, it bears about as much resemblence to parmesan as I do to the Archbishop of Canterbury. But since I was looking for an umami bomb, I made it anyway.

And I am actually obsessed. It is insanely good. So intense, so delicious, so savoury. In the space of a few days I’ve made a cucumber salad with it, sprinkled it on a plate of bucatini with tomatoes and beef mince, combined with rice, seaweed and salmon and put it on fried eggs. And I can’t stop.

I’ve got through at least a quarter of my small jar and was contemplating not giving my friend the one I made for her. Instead I’m already planning a second batch with anchovy stuffed olives this time and maybe some lemon zest.

It’s super easy to make and considerably better value than those pots of umami paste or powder you can buy. It’s also fodmap friendly as it lacks garlic or lactose and of course the basic recipe is vegan.

Homemade Umami Powder (makes about 250g)

  • 500g pitted green olives (supermarkt basic types are fine)
  • 75g miso paste (I used hatcho)
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary

This isn’t a quick recipe and you’re going to need the oven on for 4 hours so make a bigger batch if you like. I’d probably just end up face down in the jar getting stuck if I’d done that though.

Using a food processor or mini blender, pulse the olives until they are roughly chopped. Set aside and pulse the miso paste too. Add to the olives. Use the food processor or a spice grinder to blitz the fresh rosemary too and mix it all together. It will look like green mulch. Don’t worry. Like a lot of things in life, it gets better.

Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or double layered greaseproof paper and spread the mixture out with a spatula to form a thin layer. Allow it all to dry and dehydrate in an oven at 100C for about 2 and half hours. It will look like brownish mulch. Stay with me.

Scrape it all back into the food processor and blitz it all again for about 5-6 pulses. Spread out on the tray again and stick it back in the oven for another 90 minutes or so.

It will now look like a rich dark brown crumbly powder that you can’t wait to use. Tip into a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Add to everything you eat for weeks to come and reward yourself for your patience.

Fresh white anchovies

Marinaded Fresh Anchovies

Fresh white anchovies

I think anchovies might be my favourite ingredient in the kitchen. Or at least the one I use the most. I don’t do a lot of vegan or veggie cooking but when I do the thing I always have to think about is not just adding something anchovy based into it.

Lea & Perrins, Gentleman’s Relish, Anchovy Essence or just whole fillets in oil, those little cured fish are a big way I season my food. The only thing you’ll ever hear me say I have in common with Ella Woodward is that it looks like, along with all my other ailments, I have the same chronic condition as her.

POTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is very common in people with ME/CFS like me and causes faintness, low blood pressure and low blood volume amongst other symptoms. It means I need to drink vast amounts of fluid to help prevent worse fatigue or dizziness and it’s not unusual that I can put away 4 litres of fizzy water, 5-6 cups of peppermint tea, a few mugs of builders tea and all the fluid in my food each day.

This also means I need more salt in my diet than the average person. Salt helps raise my problematically low blood pressure and if you drink a lot of fluids, you need to replace salt even if you’re healthy. This is why I prefer fizzy water which has higher sodium levels than tap water, but I also need to add salty stuff to my food.

I get through a lot of good old basic sea salt, eat a fair bit of parmesan, love an olive or two but treat anchovies as medicine. I’m on my second Kilner jar of them from Lidl this year as I often chuck a couple of fillets on top of my morning eggs for an extra salty savoury kick to wake me up.

I also adore those little marinaded white anchovies you get in Italy and Spain as antipasti or tapas. That shimmering silvery sheen to their flesh with a  silky vinegary tang on your tongue. They were my absolute favourite treat on family holidays to Italy as a kid and now I love them with a dry sherry or crisp Cava on the side.

Sadly they are usually quite expensive to buy so a rare sunshiney summer treat for me, but when I went to my local fishmonger last week, she had fresh white anchovies for £1 per 100g. I had no idea what to do with them but came home with 200g all the same.

My friend Sherri from the fabulous Blue Jay in Brixton suggested I smoke them on a cedar plank to add an extra depth and that was my plan until I was invited to a friend’s for dinner and needed to bring something.

Then my attention turned to how one marinates an anchovy and I realised from Rachel Roddy’s expertise that it’s basically like ceviche but with more oil to stop the flesh going mealy from over-cooking in the acid. This seemed like my Saturday night level of cooking right now.

The anchovies were skinless and headless, but I needed to pull the spines out before marinating them. This was easy to do with my fingers and I laid the fillets in a dish and salted them well before adding the juice of three lemons, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar and two tablespoons of oilve oil and leaving them to sit at room temperature for three hours.

They were served up scattered with fresh parsley and some capers and some freshly ground pepper and we slithered them all sharp and oily into our mouths with our fingers in a very undignified fashion while sitting on the sofa gossiping. All they needed was some bubbles on the side and they were pretty much the perfect low maintenance, high salt starter.

If you get the chance to buy fresh white anchovies don’t pass it by. It’s testament to how much I like my friend that I shared them. The texture was much firmer and plumper and satisfying than the commercial ones I could easily have devoured the lot by myself they were so good. Plus there’s something so pleasurable about eating a whole tiny fish as a full sized human…

Salt Cod Scotch Egg

Salt Cod Scotch Eggs

Salt Cod Scotch Egg

Salt cod is one of things I always want to use more of in cooking since I live in an area that is heavily Portuguese and Caribbean and it’s a staple foodstuff to both cultures.

Unfortunately the UK has no real relationship to it and when I moved to Brixton, the closest I’d come to it was reading Mark Kurlansky’s excellent books Salt and Cod and had never eaten it or learned how to prepare it.

Bearing in mind I also still only had dial up internet in those days so couldn’t easily nip online to give myself a crash course in it like I do now with unusual foodstuffs.

Which is a long winded way of explaining how and why I came to make a leek and salt fish stir fry with unsoaked salt cod the first month I lived in Brixton. And a very good reason why it’s taken me the guts of a decade to buy it again.

However I wanted to do an Easter recipe with it in homage to its Southern European heritage where bacalhau is traditionally served on religious holidays. Potatoes, salt fish and olive oil beaten together to be smooth and creamy could not be wrong.

And it wouldn’t have been if I had been so busy getting the gossip from my fishmonger to realise I’d only ordered the tiniest piece of salt cod that would barely feed a mouse (especially not the overstuffed gluttons currently terrorising my kitchen) and I needed a way to make it all go further.

Years ago I had a salt cod scotch egg at the Lido Cafe at Brockwell Park and it was the best thing on their menu and discovering last year how easy scotch eggs are to make meant I had my answer to my shopping mishap and a way to get even more eggs into my life than usual.

Salt Cod Scotch Eggs (makes 4)

  • 250g salt fish (see instructions below)
  • 250g potato, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • dash lemon juice
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150g breadcrumbs
  • 500ml oil for frying

Start by soaking your salt fish. Mine was a fillet with the skin an bones still on and it’s almost impossible to remove these before soaking, so if you are lucky enough to get this kind of salt cod, buy a heavier piece and account for the drop in weight after soaking.

Soak this style of salt cod in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water halfway through. Remove the skin and as many bones as possible, place in lots of cold water, bring to the boil and then gently simmer for about 45 minutes until the fish starts to flake apart. Drain and rinse well, removing any remaining bones with your fingers.

If you can only get the little plastic packets of skinless and boneless salt cod in the Caribbean style, you can actually cut down this stage. Simply put the salt fish in a saucepan and pour boiling water over it and leave for 5 minutes. Drain and repeat. Then add boiling water for a third time and boil rapidly on a rolling boil for 15 minutes to break up the fish. Drain and rinse and allow to cool.

Peel, dice and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash well, beating half the olive oil and lemon juice into it until it’s as creamy as possible. Set aside to cool slightly.

Blitz the salt cod lightly in a blender with the rest of the olive oil or mash it into a smooth paste with a pestle and mortar and mix it in with the mashed potato to form a smooth, almost stiff mash. You can make more than the recipe states and use it for making dishes you’d use regular mashed potato for. Allow the mix to cool.

Hard boil the eggs while the bacalhau is cooling. I do this by putting the room temperature eggs into boiling water, bringing back to the boil and boiling for 1 minute. I then turn the heat off, put a lid on the pan and leave to sit for 6 minutes. I then put them into cold water to stop them cooking so the whites are set and the yolks are still soft. Once cooled, simply peel them.

To make the scotch eggs, divide the bacalhau into four portion and roll into a ball and flatten it out onto the palm of your hand. Set the boiled egg on it and start to shape the mix around it so the egg is completely covered. You maybe need to do a bit of pinching and patching. Repeat with each egg and chill for 30 minutes.

Put the oil in a deep saucepan and heat to about 180C according to a thermometer or when a bit of leftover mash bubbles and rises to the surface.

Set out a dish with flour and season it with mustard and salt and pepper. Beat the eggs into a another dish and put the breadcrumbs in a third. Roll the covered egg in the flour and then into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs.

Put straight into the hot oil and fry for about 2 minutes each side. Depending on the size of your pan, you can cook two at a time before the temperature drops too much and you get a greasy egg. Drain onto kitchen roll and repeat with the other two eggs.

Serve warm or cold. Mine went very well with a cold beer both straight from the fridge when I felt peckish but not really hungry enough for a meal. The salt cod goes really well with egg and despite not being that hungry, I managed to inhale two of them in a row. Well worth all the various steps!

boiled mutton

Boiled Mutton

boiled muttonAlright, technically it’s lamb, but boiled lamb probably sounds even less appealing to you. But don’t be misled, there was a reason this dish was a Victorian classic.

You take a piece of lamb (or mutton) and essentially poach it slowly with herbs and vegetables and you end up with beautiful moist meat that falls away from the bone and a deep meaty broth that makes the perfect basis for soup.

I had bought a half shoulder of lamb and was planning to essentially roast it in some way in the slow cooker, but then I happened across this piece on rejuvenating boiled mutton by Bee Wilson and felt inspired to try it for myself instead.

I’ve been having terrible trouble finding a way to make chicken stock taste like anything on the fodmap diet, but recently cracked it by using celeriac instead of celery and am now into broths again in a big way.

Adding it along with carrot, parsnip, fresh thyme, bay leaves, green peppercorns and the tail end of a bottle of vermouth, I popped the well seasoned half shoulder into my 6.5 litre slow cooker and cooked it on high for 8-9 hours.

I lifted it out and rested it for 15 minutes and the meat just slipped off the bone, pulling apart beautifully. I let the broth cool and strained half of it off as stock for a gravy and blitzed the other half up as a soup out of the sheer novelty of being able to eat soup again for once.

Boiled Mutton (serves 3-4)

  • half shoulder of lamb, well seasoned
  • 1/4 celeriac, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced
  • 1 onion (if not on fodmap)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 big sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon green peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 anchovies
  • 100ml vermouth
  • 1 litre cold water

There is barely any recipe here if you’re looking for something to make as a Sunday lunch that requires absolutely no effort or washing up but looks like you went out of your way to slave over a hot stove. I can’t decide if Mrs Beeton would approve of such inherent laziness or consider me a massive let down to womanhood…

Prep the veg and put it and the herbs on the bottom of the slow cooker crock and set the lamb on top of it. Add the vermouth and the cold water so the lamb is completely covered.

Cook on high for 8-9 hours. To make up for my laziness, I got my timings cock-eyed and ended up having to set my alarm for 6am to get up and rescue the lamb before it turned woolly in texture.

Rest for 15 minutes and then simply pull the meat away from the bone with a fork and serve with a quick relish made from capers, diced cucumber and fresh mint tossed in a little white wine vinegar, sugar and salt and left to sit for 30 minutes before being lightly squished with a potato masher.

I then served half the lamb with this and some roasted tomatoes and the other half as a shepherd’s pie using some of the lamb broth to make a gravy. All that and soup from one piece of meat? Not a bad night’s sleep really!

*This is another entry for the recent #livepeasant campaign for Simply Beef and Lamb, but all content is my own.

Slow cooker Carapulcra

Slow Cooker Carapulcra

Slow cooker Carapulcra

You might have seen the #livepeasant hashtag on Twitter recently celebrating the traditional cooking of the world using British beef or lamb and wondered if it was only British dishes involved.

I really hope it isn’t after the nice people at Simply Beef and Lamb asked me to take part and I immediately started plotting this Peruvian inspired beef and potato stew in the slow cooker instead.

Usually made using traditional South American freeze dried potatoes to thicken the gravy and a mixture of pork and beef, I decided to try a new idea I’ve had for thickening slow cooker gravies using regular potatoes recently instead.

These chuña blanco are one of the first examples of using cold temperatures to preserve foods and harnessed the sub zero climate of the high Andes to create dried potatoes that last for years. I can buy them in Brixton and the flavour is not unlike potato jerky.

It goes well with the other main flavours of this stew which is peanuts and chilli. Peruvians use a mix called aji which is as varied as hot sauces are but always contains garlic, chilli peppers and coriander. The most popular kind in carapulcra is aji amarillo but I was fresh out of that I’m afraid so I’ve insulted a load of Peruvians and adapted the recipe to what I had instead.

I created a thick rich gravy by grating one of the potatoes into the stew and allowing it to break down along with the peanut butter in the sauce and create a rich velvety gravy full of flavour and spice.

Inauthentic my version might be but it was simple, warming and so tasty everyone wanted seconds. What more could you want from peasant food?

Slow Cooker Carapulcra (serves 4)

  • 500g braising steak (mine was blade steak)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 300ml red wine (or dark beer)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 generous teaspoon Bovril
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 750g potatoes, peeled
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh coriander to serve
  • roasted peanuts to serve

If you can the night before, put the braising steak in a bowl along with the onions and garlic and the powdered spices and mix well. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.

If you aren’t used to using a slow cooker, let me give you some good news. You don’t need to seal meat or pre cook onions before using them. That dates back to the oldest versions and I find that generally browning the meat beforehand over cooks it and leads to that strange woolly texture you get in slow cooker stews.

This method means you can prep stuff the night before and put it all in the slow cooker crock next day without faffing. Even chilled meat isn’t a problem temperature wise, but don’t chill it in the crock as that can damage the crock and slow cooking down.

This recipe prepares nicely the night before. Simply warm the red wine in a pan and melt the peanut butter and Bovril into it to make a thick paste and set aside or use immediately.

Peel all the potatoes and cut all about 150g of them into 3-4cm chunks. Grate the remaining amount. Put them into the slow cooker crock along with the marinaded meat and the red wine mix.

Add the non ground spices, season well with salt and pepper and add the hot sauce. If you like a bit of extra kick you could add a chilli pepper too. I’m a fan of the frozen chilli paste for the slow cooker actually.

Check the liquid levels. It should be about two thirds the depth of the meat and potatoes. Add another 100ml of water if not. Slow cookers need less liquid that oven cooked stews as they don’t allow water to evaporate so don’t add too much or things will be flavourless.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the whole thing on low for 8-9 hours. The grated potato will collapse into the liquid and make a thick gravy and the spices will fill it with flavour.

I served mine just as it was (I forgot the coriander for serving) with some roasted peanuts on top. African shops and sections of supermarkets often sell peanuts roasted without being salted and they are perfect here for a little crunch.

I loved this stew and would make it again. It’ll easily adapt to the oven if you prefer, using extra beef stock and I think it’ll be really popular with kids if you adapt the chilli to their palates or even (whisper) leave it out…