Posts

Hibiscus Barley Water

sorrel drink

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and here in SW9, I am feeling the excitement building in my nearby borough. I’ve been sneaking a peek when Andy Murray is playing because I’m not sure I can take more tears this year, but I know others are glued to the screen all day everyday. So it seemed appropriate to create a drink that would capture that British tradition of this time of year and accidentally make dinner at the same time…

Barley water is just that. It’s the water in which pearl barley has been cooked, strained off and flavoured with something sharp or citrussy to refresh on humid summer days. Reputed to be as excellent for one’s system as cranberry juice, it’s a healthy and cheap thing to make from scratch. I’ve flavoured mine with hibiscus or as it’s known in Jamaica, sorrel for a scarlet twist on the more classic lemon version.

It also means you have delicious nutty barley cooked and ready to eat. I’ve made a fresh salad, stuffed full of grilled courgette, scallion and fennel, studded with emerald green broad beans and salty capers before being dressed with mint and olive oil. Make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a tasty lunch or dinner when you can’t leave Centre Court for long. It’s fabulous as it is or with cold chicken or grilled halloumi on the side.

Read more

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.

Turning Japanese: a simple vegan meal

Shirataki to kinoko no ni-mono

Some time ago, a mate pointed out most of my blog posts are consistently carnivorous. I hadn’t really given it much thought – and I’m no hater of all things vegetarian – but a quick scan through recent posts suggested a certain preponderance towards pork, game and other meaty delights. So I’m hoping this might redress the balance a little … a simple but exotic meat-free and dairy-free meal.

We recently had some friends over for dinner – she’s vegan, he’s not – and I relished the challenge of cooking vegan-friendly food. I hoped to serve up something a bit different to my standard fare, celebrating interesting new ingredients, and which didn’t rely on meat substitutes. It’s always good to use a dinner as an excuse to try out some new dishes.

As for what to cook; after some deliberation the best choice… or at least the natural choice for me… was to go Japanese. Famed for their creative and delicious uses of veg and seaweed alike, and less dependency on dairy than many other cultures, looking eastwards gave me loads of options. And, having cooked Japanese at dinner parties before, I know it’s also a lot of fun to play with new ingredients and flavours! Read more

Polishing off Polish Pierogi…

Several things are guaranteed to bring a tear to my eye: the episode of ER where Mr Mark Greene dies, posters for lost stuffed animals and family pets and the thought of ever having to go low carb and stop eating potatoes.

I really don’t care how big an Irish cliche I am. I love spuds with all my soul. What other foodstuff is so versatile, so easy to work with and to grow yourself? There is just no thing as too many potatoes in my life and that is why I love pierogi so much. A dumpling stuffed with mashed potato? Hello there! Dumpling is the magic word in my world, especially when you can fry them in butter to add even more of my favourite things to one dish.

There are as many recipes for pierogi as there are types of spuds and Polish families, but I used this one from Post Punk Kitchen as I wanted a dairy free recipe for a friend with intolerances. (I find specifically dairy free sites seems to rely heavily on soy or nut ‘milk’ based products and I would sooner die than use soy cheese. Vegan sites tend to seek other options and skip the processed stuff most of the time so I prefer them.)

I cannot pretend to have solved the eternal dilemma of translating American potato recipes to our varieties and found a total replacement for Yukon Golds, but find that if all else fails, a Maris Piper is the answer, although I used the last of my own Pink Fir Apples from the veg patch. I also won’t lie to you. This recipe is time consuming, but actually very easy to make. So stick Radio 4 on, roll up your sleeves and get pottering in the kitchen this weekend.

First up, choose your filling. Pierogi can be stuffed with anything. You can do some with spud and some with just about anything of your choosing. Sauerkraut is popular. I fancied pumpkin and sage to be seasonal. Black pudding would be brilliant. But feel free to use anything you desire. Leftovers would be perfect here. I went for sauteed mushroom with tarragon and mashed potato. Just cook as you normally would, but make your spuds are nice and dry before you mash them.

Once the filling is decided on, you’ll need to get going with the dough. This is dead easy. An American cup is approximately 240ml which equates to about 110g of flour, but if you’ve got measuring cups, stick to those. I used plain flour here and needed to add all three full cups of flour to stop the dough being too sticky to get out of the bowl. I added another two or three handfuls to it as I was kneading too.

After about ten minutes of kneading, the dough will be smooth as anything and lovely and elastic. This requires little skill, just some concentration and a bit of time. At this point, you can either store the dough overnight covered in the fridge until needed or get on with making dumplings.

Flour the surface and dough well and roll it out as thin as possible. Mine needed to be a tad thinner than they were, but I still got 45 pierogi out of them so be prepared to have an invasion of dumplings! Cut out circles of dough with a cutter or glass and then get filling. I put about a dessertspoonful of mushroom and potato in each one, brushed the edges with water and pinched shut, making sure the ends are nicely closed. That’s it. Super simple. Easy enough for little hands to do too.

Once I’d cut, filled and pinched half the dough, I boiled six or so pierogi in a big pot of water for about four minutes or til they float. You can served them simply boiled or you can take it up a notch by frying them off for a golden crunch. Drain them onto kitchen towel if you’re doing that and then pop into a pan of hot fat. While they fry, deal with the other half of the dough. I used up the full 500g of spuds I mashed and half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms to fill all of them, but could have done with twice the amount of fungi.

Once your dumplings are fried, pop in the oven to keep warm and keep going in batches until you’re ready to eat. I served for dinner, sprinkled with truffle salt and fresh tarragon to keep them simple but dairy free, although they’d be great with sour cream too. The other half went onto lined baking tray to cool and go into the freezer until needed.

So after all that time and pinching, were the pierogi worth it? Oh yes! With bells on. Surprisingly light dough with the smoothest creamiest mashed potato possible, despite not a drop of butter, oil or milk in it, all made better by frying them off. I managed 9 of them before passing out in a carb coma, but managed to go back for more for dinner the next night, adding some pan fried breadcrumbs for extra crunch.

A super easy, surprisingly relaxing recipe to make, I urge you to get your dumpling on as soon as. You’ll have a great meal that will impress anyone straightaway and enough to do several quick dinners when you can’t be bothered to cook another night. Dumplings don’t get better than this!

A warm salad for warm summer nights

So, I’ve recently returned from a week’s holiday in the warmth and civilisation of Languedoc. It’s not a part of the world I was familiar with, and as well as good weather, my companions and I enjoyed a week of superb local food and wine. As they’d been to the area before I enjoyed some local delicacies under their guidance, and we made plenty of new discoveries too. We ate simply, and tried as much as the short timescale could allow (finally ticked bouillabaisse off my list of ‘to dos’, cooked superfresh whitebait, and gingerly tried freshwater clams which we’d sourced ourselves from Lac du Salagou). Plus freshly picked figs & plums everyday, moules et frites at the local village knees-up, and a host of other delights.

I’ve only warmed in recent years to classic French cooking – my reference point was always further south in Italy – and I associated French with more courtly and less rustic cooking. However there’s a healthy overlap between the high-end and the more accessible, so I’ve been expanding my repertoire and gaining more confidence talking mirepoix rather than soffritto. In part this helps when you’re in an area where the aroma of herbs hangs heavy in the air – wild thyme and mint nestling next to tall fennel plants in the verges – and bushes and trees are laden with fruits and nuts. Foraging and gathering becomes a daily constant, not an occasional novel experience.

I’d mentioned previously I was working on the forthcoming Parlour Café Cookbook: before going on hoilday I’d worked up several of these recipes into postcards, and one in particular stuck in my mind: a warm salad of Puy lentils and goats cheese. It’s one of the star recipes in the book and supposed to be a favourite with the regulars,  so I decided to give it a whirl.

We picked up most of the ingredients in the local supermarket before a trip up country to visit Roquefort and Millau – great cheese, rather dull tour of the caves, although I did pick up some sheep’s butter there – and on the way home had to make our respective ways through an enormous, spectacular and somewhat frightening electric storm. Everyone was a bit frazzled by the end of the trip, so it was rather relaxing to potter around in the kitchen, unwinding with a glass in one hand and a stirrer in the other, unwinding while knocking this oh-so-simple recipe up. Mind you, it’s always fun find your way round somebody else’s kitchen for the first time, making the most of what you find lurking in the cupboards.

It still makes me smile that this most Mediterranean of dishes actually comes via Dundee, but using local ingredients (and some great local wine) meant it was perfectly transposed to a more Gallic setting. Rather than rewritng this I’ll use Gillian’s words from the cookbook, annotated slightly.

Puy Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad

Serves 4

●200g Puy lentils [oddly they weren’t labelled as Puy but verte]
●1 onion, chopped
●1 carrot, chopped
●2 stalks of celery, chopped [wonderful dark green celery, still with all the leaves]
●A handful of fresh thyme [straight from the local hills]
●1 bay leaf
●150ml extra virgin olive oil
●3 – 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped [I used the full six cloves, and it was extremely feisty… I guess due to the freshness of the garlic. No worries about being bitten that evening!]
●50ml red wine vinegar [I couldn’t find any in the store cupboard so I used a mix of balsamic & some red vin du table instead]
●100g goats cheese [we used a local, strongly flavoured little number]
●a large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
●sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 minutes, until they are absolutely tender.

Meanwhile, fry the onions, carrots, celery, thyme and the bay leaf in a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil until soft and lightly coloured. In a food processor or with a hand blender, blend the garlic with the rest of the olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the vinegar and blend until it’s emulsified.

Drain the lentils and pour out onto a flattish dish. Smother in the garlicky dressing and turn gently so everything is glistening. Once the vegetables are cooked, gently mix them into the lentils and leave the salad to cool.

Then toss gently with the goats cheese, torn into chunks, and the parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper if you think it needs it.

The only major change I made was that a couple of our party didn’t like goats cheese, so we served their portions first – they had comté instead – then crumbled the cheese in afterwards. We’d also picked up some smoked sausage to add some savoury notes to the dish. Otherwise we kept it simple – a hunk of fresh bread, a fresh green salad on the side, and some local wine to help everything go down.

This is such a good recipe: it doesn’t take long to make, tastes stunning, and it’s most evocative of warm summer nights and lazy times. I can see why it’s a favourite at the café, and I think it will be with you too. Delicious!