Sichuan Inspired Green Beans with pork mince and Kale – My First Post Of 2013

Firstly, a belated happy new year!  I hope 2013 has been treating you well so far.  For me, it has been a good start although I have been putting off blogging since the holidays; so much to share, but I needed something to kick start me again and that happened earlier this week.

The absence of posts is mostly due to the lack of time to experiment since the holidays.  Although, I do have a couple of noteworthy holiday recipes to share at some point.  Maybe I will save them for later in the year as they aren’t so season appropriate right now!

 There has however been some cooking happening and for the most part it has been with a more health conscious focus in mind.  

Chinese is one of my favourite cuisines to eat out and the recipe I am sharing is inspired by a very popular Chinese Sichuan dish; a dish I had not tried until a couple of years ago.  I was surprised that all these years I had missed this because it is absolutely delicious!  Of course, now I order it almost anywhere new I try just to taste the differences and let me tell you there are many!  My favourite version of this dry fried green bean dish is when it has pork in it too.  What I love about this recipe is that it is delicious to eat on its own if you are omitting carbs in the new year, for example.  As well as having a much higher ratio of vegetables to meat than other dishes, it is healthier too.  If you use lean mince and the oil  a little more sparingly you will still have a dish packed with flavour, texture and lots of deliciousness!

 

My Sichuan Inspired  Gan Bian Si Ji Dou - Fine Green Beans With Pork and Kale

One of my favourite quick weekday dishes.  In the past I have also cooked this with duck breast fillets chopped up to a course mince consistency with excellent results.  I also add a little more 5 spice powder and sugar when cooking the duck version.  This is a delicious alternative to the pork.

pork green beans-1-8

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

1 pack of fine green beans topped and tailed and cut in half (200-300g)

500g lean pork mince (you can also try using duck.  Use skinless breast fillets and chop finely to a course mince)

1 bag of curly kale (200g) chopped and any large stems removed

5 cloves of garlic pressed/grated or chopped finely

1 small white onion chopped finely

2-4 green chilies chopped finely (adjust quantity according to taste)

2-4 tbsp dried shrimp chopped finely (if you cannot find this, you may omit)

1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns crushed well

1 good tsp 5 spice powder (a little extra if cooking duck)

1 tbsp red chili flakes (adjust to taste)

3 tbsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

1- 11/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (I add this because traditionally preserved greens are added to this dish.  The vinegar adds a pleasant balance as a substitute)

3-4 tbsp  dark soy sauce (adjust seasoning at the end)

1 1/2  tbsp sugar (adjust to taste- for duck use a little more)

I spring onion chopped finely for garnishing

Check seasoning at the end- you may add a little more soy or salt.

Groundnut or Rice bran oil (or any other oil you may want to use that has a high burning point)

Method

  1. Heat a large wide based pan.
  2. Drizzle over 1 tsp of oil over the chopped beans and toss before putting into the hot pan. You just want a light coating on the beans as your aim is to dry fry the beans at a high temperature to retain some texture and colour. Some recipes suggest deep frying the beans, but apart from adding a lot of calories, having tried it, I found I much preferred the fresher taste when just a little oil was used. Cook the beans at a high temperature, tossing them regularly for about 5 mins until they have evenly blistered and soften slightly.  When done remove from the pan.
  3. In the same pan add a couple of tbsp of the oil you are using and add the pork.  Fry until you get some colour for a couple of minutes.
  4. Next add the onions and green chilies.  This is something extra I have added in my version. I like the sweetness from the onion and the flavour of the green chili. Fry with the meat until the onions are translucent and have softened.
  5. Now lower the heat and add in the finely pressed garlic and chopped dried shrimp.  If you can’t find the dried shrimp you can just omit it.  There really isn’t a substitute   You could try to find a chili oil that is made with shrimp paste and omit the red chilies and use that instead.  The dried shrimp are usually in the refrigerated section in a Asian supermarket. They come in different sizes, but for this dish any small ones will do.  Fry for a minute or two.
  6. Now you can turn the heat back up and add the liquids and spices- the 5 spice powder, the sugar the Sichuan peppercorns, the red chili flakes, the soy sauce, the rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and the Shaoxing wine. Stir well as the liquid evaporates.  Once it has evaporated check for seasoning.  Remember that the beans and kale have no seasoning so you need to add a little extra.
  7. Finally add the beans back in with the kale leaves (stalks removed) and stir well.  You do not need to cook it much- 1-2 mins.  You just want the beans warmed again and the kale to wilt slightly. Check seasoning.
  8. Take off the heat and garnish with spring onions.  You can serve this with steamed Jasmine rice for a hearty meal.

 

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The Festive Season Continues with my Month Before Christmas Cake Recipe

With just under a month remaining; fear not, it’s not too late to make a homemade Christmas cake, in fact this recipe has been tried and tested up to a week before Christmas and it has been just as delicious!

I have not always been a fan of this deeply rich boozy, buttery cake, jeweled nay, brimming with plump intoxicated fruit and nuts.  As a child I loved my little packs of Sun Maid raisins, but bring me a slice of  this “adult” cake laden with one of my favourite break time snacks and you’d see me turn my nose up at it quite promptly.  As with many things, my tastes have evolved with age and I now look forward to baking my own boozy Christmas cake and mince pies every year.

My mother particularly loves fruit cakes and so we would have them in the house now and then.  She liked them so much that she would  attempt making them when her cravings demanded it and as no one else liked them, she would eat the entire cake alone- of course, over several days!

I remember my tastes changing around Christmas at 16 or so.  Instead of cooking at home for Christmas, we decided to eat out.  As with any Christmas lunch there are 4 or 5 courses…sometimes more.  The hotel that we were eating at was renowned for it’s restaurant and so we were sure to get a delicious Christmas feast.   Having an undeniable sweet tooth,  I remember working  my way down the menu dreading to  find that the only desserts available would be boozy, fruit based ones.  What I disliked more than Christmas cake, was Christmas pudding.  Stodgy, boozy and fruity.  Not appetizing or appealing to me at all. To my relief there were a number of other acceptable choices.  I can’t remember exactly what I chose, but I am sure it was something chocolatey.  I also noticed that one of the courses on the menu was “Mince Pies and Port” with no alternative;  more for Mum, I thought.   After we had eaten the most deliciously perfect turkey with all the trimmings, along came the mince pies.  The waitress placed a plate of deceptively delicious looking pies in the centre of the table so we could all help ourselves. My mother loves mince pies too, and so I remember us all joking that she would be the one eating the entire plate.  My father took one because he loved pastry and so as usual my sister and I copied him and did the same.  He neatly left the filling behind as he enjoyed the pastry and the port. As I nibbled away at the pastry I remember the taste of the filling that was clinging to the inside of the pastry.  It’s  aromatic, syrupy sweetness and hint of citrus and spice was DELICIOUS!  I slowly but surely ate the entire pie, filling and all.  It was a seriously delicious mince pie.  Yes it was  boozy and full of fruit and nuts, but I loved it.  Ever since that day my interest in boozy fruit and nut filled sweets began!

My Month Before Christmas, Christmas Cake

The recipe I am sharing is the one that I have adapted from probably 4 or 5 recipes that I have tried over the years and now this is the one I make every year.  Although the content of it varies from year to year, the base and measurements stay the same. A month is more than enough time to make a deliciously boozy mature and moist Christmas cake, and in fact if you are extremely last-minute, you can make this even a week before as I have done in the past.  It will be slightly less boozy, but equally moist and delicious.

The night before you make the cake:

Ingredients

1kg of mixed fruit I vary this every year. A good starting mix would be 250g currants, 150g sultanas, 150g raisins,(550g of ready mixed vine fruits will suffice), 150g glace cherries, 150g dried apricots, 150g italian mixed peel. You can vary this with this cranberries, figs, prunes, dates, etc.

125g roughly chopped almonds.  You can used blanched almond without skins, but I leave the skins on.  I also vary this with a mix of nuts.  This year I used 75g almonds and 50g pistachios.

150mls of soaking liquour  I usually use a mix of brandy with 2-3 tbsp of amaretto to make up the 150mls. You can use whisky or rum as well.

The zest of 2 oranges

The zest of 1 lemon

Method

  1. Chop the larger fruits into smallish pieces so that the fruit is uniform is size.   I don’t like to chop the fruit too finely as I think chunks of glistening apricots and cherries look quite beautiful when you cut the cake
  2. Take a large glass bowl (I prefer glass as it is non reactive) and tip in all the fruit, nuts, zest of lemon and oranges and mix well.
  3. Finally add the booze and stir to coat all fruit.
  4. Put a lid or plate on top and leave to macerate overnight so that the fruits can soak up all that lovely booze.

The next day:

Ingredients

250g butter

275g dark muscovado sugar (if you want to try a deeper richer flavour try molasses sugar, likewise if you want a lighter flavour, use light muscovado sugar- or a mix.

225g plain flour

150g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

5 eggs

Spices: 2 tsp mixed spice, 1 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cardamon (for the Indian in me!), 1 tsp ground nutmeg, 2 tsp ground vanilla beans (if you cannot find use 1-2 tbsp good vanilla extract.)  You can vary these spices according to your preference.

A couple of extra tbsp of the liquor you are using for good measure.  This is entirely optional.  I just enjoy the spirit of adding more spirit…no pun intended.

You will also need some newspaper and string, a deep 9 inch cake tin (preferably loose bottomed), baking parchment, a large roasting tin that will fit your cake tin, oil or butter for greasing and your regular cake making utensils.

Method

Preheat the oven to 140C no fan.  I don’t use a fan oven to ensure that the cake doesn’t dry out.

  1. Prepare the tin first by greasing and lining it with baking parchment. Ensure the paper that you line around the side of the tin is taller by an inch or so for a collar. When you make the circle for the bottom, triple up your paper to make 3 circles as you will need 2 circles to place over the cake with while it bakes to protect it from burning.
  2. Take your roasting tin and line it with 3 or 4 folded sheets of newspaper.
  3. Then take 4 sheets and fold to a width that will ensure a 1-2 inch collar above the rim of the cake tin.  Take some string or thread and tie it securely.
  4. Next take the butter and the sugar and cream well until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time beating well each time to incorporate.  The mixture may curdle, but this is fine.
  6. Add the vanilla extract and extra tbsps of liqour now if using and mix.
  7. Now add this mixture to all the fruit and nuts that you have soaked and stir well to coat.
  8. Instead of sieving the flour I take all the dry ingredients- the flour, baking powder. ground almonds and spices and whisk them in a large bowl to lighten them and add air.
  9. Take the dry mixture and fold into the wet mixture in two lots until all is incorporated. The consistency is a soft dropping consistency.  Less soft than a victoria sponge because of the body of the fruit, more the texture of ripe bananas when you mash them.
  10. Spoon the mixture into the greased pan, spreading to level the surface.
  11. Take the two other circles that you cut our earlier and snipe a hole in them about the size of a 5p/dime coin and gently place over the top of the cake batter ensuring you don’t press it down too much.
  12. Place the cake in the middle of the oven to bake for about 2  - 3 hrs.  Every oven is different so please check after 2 hrs  inserting a skewer in the hole you created in the centre of the top layers of baking parchment. Mine was done in 2 hrs 15 mins this time, but it has taken longer before.
  13. The cake is done when your skewer is clean.
  14. Leave the cake to cool for some hours and then remove from tin.   Remove baking parchment around the sides and the top of the cake.  The top of the cake is unlikely to be completely flat and so a tip I have here to ensure a nice even flat surface to decorate on is to use the bottom of the cake as the top.  Place a large sheet of strong turkey foil over the top of the cake.  Then place a large plate over this.  Now flip the cake over so the top now becomes the bottom.  You will now have a lovely smooth flat surface to work with.  Lift the cake using the edges of the foil and place into an airtight tin.  If you don’t have a tin big enough, you will need to wrap it 2 or 3 times in foil each time you feed it.

Feeding the cake

Ingredients

The liquour of your choice.  I mostly make a mix of brandy and amaretto 2:1  and feed the cake with this every 4 or 5 days depending on how long it is before I intend to serve it. You can also use rum, whisky or sherry.

Method

  1. After you have baked the cake and it has cooled, before closing the container and wrapping the top of the cake take a skewer and poke holes evenly all over the cake.
  2. Take your liquor and spoon 5 -8 tbsp over the top ensuring that it is all absorbed before you wrap it up again.
  3. Repeat this process every 4- 7 days depending on how long you have before you are serving it.

Decoration

I don’t like to decorate the entire cake as I don’t like too much icing, so I usually cut out a round of good quality marzipan and white fondant and place on top of the cake before decorating with something Christmassy and wrapping it in a festive wide ribbon.

Roll out the marzipan  to 3-4mm and cut out a circle out by using the cake tin for size.  Attach by brushing the cake with either apricot jam or some more liquor. Leave this to dry for a day.

The next day cut the circle for the white fondant and brush the marzipan lightly with liquor before placing the fondant on top.  Leave to dry for a few hours or overnight before decorating depending on what you are planning to do.  You can wrap the cake with ribbon whether you ice the entire cake or not.

Be sure to come back and check my decorating post in a couple of weeks for some tips on how to decorate your cake!

Happy Festive Baking!

*Meat Free Tuesday Diwali Special* Stories, Memories & Sharing Recipes Over Oceans. Pedas: Last Minute Mithai

Diwali is one of my favourite times of the year.  For me it marks the official change from Autumn to Winter.  Reminding me that Christmas is only around the corner.  And so the festive spirit embeds itself inside me for the coming months.

I am not an overly religious person, but for me, Diwali has always signified a much stronger sense of letting go and cleansing of the year that has passed than the New Year that is followed by western tradition.  This feeling stems from memories as a child.  The togetherness I have felt as a family during Diwali over say Christmas or New Year has always been much more meaningful.  This is more than likely due to the ritual we follow that makes me feel like we’re cleaning out the old to invite and make space for the new.

Diwali has always been something that was important that we celebrated between the 4 of us.  An intimate celebration.  I remember being excited about the fact that Dad would be home from work early that day because pooja (prayers) would have to be done around 6pm bringing dozens of fireworks with him. Meanwhile, we would light up the house.   The soft, glimmering candle light from at least 50 candles scattered in every room pervaded the house.  We made certain all the curtains were wide open to ensure that Laxami (the goddess worshiped during Diwali) would find our house  as it would be shining so brightly in the night sky.  When she found us she would bestow us with love, prosperity, health, wealth and happiness for the coming year.   The first thing we would do when Dad came home was the pooja that was conducted by Mum and was finished by Dad who blessed us and then started the exchange of prasad (sweet offering during prayers) between each of us that we all took turns giving each other.   With the Laxami Aarti (song sung in praise of Laxami) chiming softly in the background, we all would sit to have dinner.  It was always a simple, but astoundingly delicious dinner made even more so by the peace and togetherness that the day brought.  To finish we ate the sweets that I would have made especially for Diwali and we would end the night outside, together, to enjoy sparklers, Catherine wheels and rockets galore.   It never felt terribly cold, even if it was October or November because the light that was radiating from the house and the happiness of being together was warming me up from the inside.

The Story of Diwali

As the story goes (when you tell it to a child)………. Once upon a time, the banished warrior Prince Rama who was married to the beautiful Princess Sita found that his wife had been kidnapped by the 10 headed 20 armed Demon King Ravana who decided he wanted to steal Sita and make her his own.  Rama was determined to find and rescue his love from the Demon King.  Sita had hope that her love would find her and so she left a trail of her shiny jewellry for Rama to find and follow.  Rama followed the trail until he came upon the monkey king,  Hanuman, who he befriended and told about his dreadful loss and the quest he was on to rescue his love.  King Hanuman decided to help Rama by sending messages to all the monkeys in the world who then passed the message to find Sita to all the bears too, who then started to look for Sita. After a torturous search, Hanuman finally found Sita trapped and imprisoned on Ravana’s Island, Lanka.  With the help of the monkeys and bears and eventually all the other animals in the world they built a bridge and were able to get across  to fight a mighty battle to get the Princess back.  With a magic arrow, Rama killed Ravana in the chest.  Everyone in the world rejoiced.  The banished Prince and Princess needed to make their way back to the land they had been banished from.  To help them find their way back to Ayodhya, the people of their land lit oil lamps in order to welcome them and help guide them back home where they belonged.

Ever since the story of Rama and Sita finding their way home with the help of  lit oil lamps, Hindus all over the world light oil diyas (clay oil lamps) on Diwali to remember the triumph of light over darkness and how the light always guides you home. I guess it is the story of Diwali that resonates with my feelings of togetherness and home during Diwali.  The light always brings us together.  It is not quite the same without Dad, but we still continue the ritual.

The void is greater this year.  My dearest sister is not here for Diwali.  She is a few thousand miles away and although it is not the first Diwali I can recall that we have not spent together, she is certainly missed.

Today as I was busy in my annual ritual of making my homemade mithai (sweets) for Diwali, I got a Skype call.  All that basking in the Caribbean sun hadn’t allowed her to forget that she was missing the togetherness we share at this time of year and have done for nearly 30 years.  How time flies!

As I continued my mithai making in the kitchen we chatted and she told me how she was planning to celebrate.  She had already talked to Mum about what she could make and had taken some recipes.  I asked her what she would make as prasad.  I normally take a plate of mithai I have made and offer it as prasad for the pooja.  She wanted to make halwa and had already got the recipe.  As we were talking I suggested making some mithai.  Although she had never made any mithai before, I had the perfect recipe for her that was extremely simple, quick and of course, delicious; not to mention a favourite of hers: a perfect last minute mithai. I decided to make it for her, to show her how quick and easy it is.  It is a recipe I came across online a number of years ago.  After a couple of tweaks, (not that there are many you can make considering the fact that there are only 3 main ingredients!), I came up with my favourite version and I decided to share it here, too. I am sure you will have lots of compliments and success with this recipe for years to come.

30 minute Pedas

I usually avoid microwaving anything unless absolutely necessary and even then, it is only for heating something up or defrosting.  I much prefer to cook on the hob or cooker and in fact  I have never cooked something from scratch in the microwave.  Until now that is.  This will not start my foray into microwave cookery, I can assure you.  But these truly are the quickest, easiest, most versatile tasty Indian sweets that you can make and perfect for when you’re in the need to a last minute dessert or gift.  Nothing shows you care as much as when you make something especially for someone.

Makes about 25-40 pieces depending on the size you make them

Ingredients

125g homemade ghee or if not, use unsalted butter.  If you can make the ghee, please do as the toasty taste from the ghee adds a lovely slight caramelised nutty flavour dimension. (I will post instructions for how to make your own ghee for cooking soon!)

200g whole milk powder (the kind you get in Asian supermarkets most easily.  In the UK East End, Natco and Nido are all suitable.  Do not use skimmed milk powder)

1 tin /395g of condensed milk

Pick one of the following flavour options:  plain, cardamon powder 1 tsp, vanilla extract 2 tsp, rose water 2 tsp, kewra water 1 tsp, nutmeg 1/2 tsp, cocoa 2 tbsp + 2 tsp vanilla.

For garnishing slivers of pistachios or almonds, edible glitter, other cake decorations.

Food colour of your choice (optional)

Method

  1. Take the homemade ghee or butter and put it in a medium to large Pyrex bowl and microwave until melted- depending on the power of your microwave and how cold your ghee or butter is, about 30 seconds- 1.5m.
  2. When melted, add the entire tin of condensed milk, the milk powder and the flavouring of your choice (and colour if you are using).  Stir well and put back in the microwave for 3-4 minutes depending on the power you have.  Check and stir well every minute.
  3. After 3-4 minutes is up the mixture is ready. It should be a thick dough like consistency now. Stir well and  leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
  4. After 5 minutes the mixture will still be hot, but you should be able to handle it to make balls.  Divide the mixture into tbsp size balls, roll in your hands and place on a tray lined with grease-proof paper or foil.
  5. Once all rolled, make an indentation in the top of each peda which will flatten them slightly.  You can use the tip of your finger or a stamp like the kind that I have used or another implement of your choice to make a design.
  6. Finally garnish with nuts if you are using and or other decorations such as edible glitter.
  7. Leave to cool and within 15 minutes they will be cool and ready to serve!

Update:

And they were a resounding success in Jamaica, too!  She added her own little twist….that gene really does run through both of us!

My sister’s version- Caribbean Coconut Pedas

An excellent effort!

*Meat Free Tuesdays* As the stormy weather ensues… Let a warm wholesome bowl of Kadhi warm your insides.

The changing of season  has arrived.  I finally went outside to check what if anything was still growing in my vegetable boxes. I wasn’t hopeful seeing that we have had some awful weather the last week or so.  Surprisingly, I found some tomatoes among the kale and spinach.  Green, ready to take inside to ripen and beautifully formed. The tomatoes have been one of my favourite plants that I have grown this year.  The taste of home-grown tomatoes cannot compare to anything I have ever eaten in the UK.  The closest would be when I have eaten them in the Med, Kenya or India.  I can honestly say I grew the most delicious tomatoes I have ever eaten! However, next year I will grow them better by spreading out the plants more so that they grow bigger.  And I want to try to can them, too.  The thought of using store-bought canned tomatoes is pretty unappealing now since I have been spoilt with the taste of my home-grown babies. Saying that, there are times when convenience overtakes and so I am sure I will not abandon the canned version completely.

Today I am sharing  one of my favourite vegetarian Indian dishes- one where I have incorporated some of my home-grown tomatoes!  I chose this today because it’s something completely comforting and simple to make.  It’s warm, uplifting, sun like yellowness and soupy consistency perfectly carries flavours and spices to sooth your soul.   My favourite kind of dish.

Kadhi, is most simply put as a spicy yogurt soup.  I have to say, It doesn’t sound quite right; hot yogurt sounds wrong to me.  However, although not eaten like a soup- more like a dal would be eaten- with rice or chapattis, the main ingredient in this dish is yogurt and it is eaten hot, therefore that is how I will describe it!

Traditionally kadhi would be made  to use up the left over yogurt from the previous day’s meal.  Yogurt is eaten with almost every meal in my family.  And in India where yogurt was never bought, but made fresh at home daily, there were always left overs.  You would never normally eat the yogurt from the previous day as it would be slightly more sour and it was so easy to make yogurt.  Instead you’d be spoilt with taza – or fresh yogurt at every meal. In England I do make yogurt most weeks, but I don’t have the luxury or need to make  it daily as I don’t make Indian food daily. If I make it once a week, I am happy as there are still some left overs for making  kadhi or other tasty dishes that require sour yogurt so it all gets used.  If I fancy kadhi and I don’t have any yogurt  store-bought natural live yogurt works just as well.

There are many different kinds of kadhi from different regions of India.  My family’s kadhi is of the Punjabi variety, made with yogurt, spices and chickpeas flour, it also has the addition of pakora dumplings.   These are fried dumplings made from chickpeas flour, onions, potatoes, spices and any other vegetables you may want to add.  Once fried they are added to the hot kadhi to simmer until softened.  Often vegetables such as carrots and onions are added to the kadhi for added heartiness and to balance the sourness of the yogurt.  Punjabi kadhi is generally thick in consistency like that of a thick custard.  The kadhi is served with rice or chappatis and makes for a wholesome meal.  In Gujarat,  kadhi is also made with yogurt, chickpeas flour and spices.  The spices used are slightly different and the consistency is thinner -more soup like and there are no dumplings.  The flavour also incorporates that signature Gujarati sweet and sour pairing due to the addition of jaggery or sugar as well as a slightly more pronounced warm gingery-ness.  I tend to enjoy this style of kadhi more.  The last one  that I have tasted and attempted myself is Sindi kadhi.  This kadhi is not made with yogurt, but is only made with chickpeas flour and spices.  For the sourness, which the other two varieties get from the yogurt, tamarind paste is used instead.  Various vegetables such as beans, potatoes, drumsticks (I used these in my Toor Dal recipe) and onions to name a few are also added.  At some point I hope to share a recipe for this kind as the flavour is very different and it’s absolutely delicious.

My Favourite kind of Kadhi

Serves 8 at least, but keeps well for about a week in the fridge.  Flavour develops over time and is even more delicious the next day.

My version as with most of my Indian dishes is a hybrid of a couple of different styles of Indian cooking.  From a young age I have enjoyed both Punjabi and Gujarati kadhi.  At home I’d enjoy Punjabi kadhi, sometimes with pakora dumplings and  sometimes with sweetcorn.  The flavour was the proper Punjabi flavour- no added sweetness- just the sourness from the yogurt and the natural sweetness from the vegetables that were added.  It was important that the yogurt used was not overly sour for this reason- a day or two old was fine.  My family had many Gujarati friends both in Kenya and in England and kadhi was a popular dish that I would have often when visiting. As I described above, although made with similar ingredients, it was a thinner consistency and there was a much more of a balance between the sweet and sour flavours for me.  Oh and it was hotter too.  Gujaratis like their chilies!  I have taken my favourite parts from each and made my own.  Kadhi is a versatile dish and so you can add whatever vegetables you fancy to vary the flavour.  I like to serve it with plain boiled basmati rice.

Ingredients

4 cups of natural live yoghurt ( I tend to use low fat, but for a richer consistency you can use whole milk yoghurt)

5-6 tbsp chickpeas flour - besan  (the more you add the thicker it will become)  5-6 gives you a single cream consistency. Punjabi kadhi would have at least a 1/2 as much more.

2-3 tbsp jaggery (to taste)

2-3 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder ( to taste)

1 green chili chopped finely (optional as you are also adding this to the tarka)

6 cups of water

1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds (optional)

2-3 tsp ground roasted coriander

For the tempering  tarka in Punjabi or vaghaar in Gujarati or chaunk in Hindi

2-4 green chilies chopped finely

1 large spanish onion or two regular medium onions sliced

2 sprigs of fresh curry leaves – about 12 leaves (fresh is vital for flavour.  You can try to buy these fresh and freeze them immediately.  They work well this way.  Dried ones will not work nearly as well)

2 tbsp homemade ghee or butter or a mix of oil and ghee/butter.  I never use store-bought ghee for cooking as I find the flavour and smell unappetizing.  To me, it’s not what ghee should smell or taste like.  It is very easy to make your own ghee at home and you will find a huge difference in the taste of your dishes because of it.  If you do not have the time to make ghee, I would always recommend use butter instead of store-bought ghee.  Just be sure not to heat it too high as butter has a tendency to burn because of the milk solids that are still in it.

5-6 cloves

1 heaped tsp cumin

1 heaped tsp mustard seeds

2 inches of cassia bark/cinnamon sticks

3-5 whole red chillies of your choice. (optional)

1/2- 1/4 tsp of asafoetida - hing (optional – I know some people don’t like this because of the smell, but if you add it sparingly, and fry it a little it adds a great flavour)

To garnish:

1-2 flavourful tomatoes chopped into chunks – sometimes also add sweet corn.  The tomato adds a tang to the kadhi and compliments the sweet onions. (optional)

a good handful of finey chopped coriander leaves and stems

Method

  1. Take a large heavy based pan and put the yoghut, chickpea flour,, turmeric, red chili powder and coriander  corriander powder in.  Mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
  2. Next add the grated/crumbled jaggery, finely chopped green chilli if you’re using it, the grated ginger, and the whole coriander seeds.  Mix well and finally add the 6 cups of water, stir and put on the cooker to bring to the boil. Ensure to stir periodically to avoid lumps.
  3. While  the kadhi is coming to a boil make the tarka.  This is the heart of the dish- where the oils from the spices are released to impart delicious flavour through the dish.  In a frying pan heat the ghee/butter/oil until hot.
  4. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, whole red  chilies, cloves and cassia/cinnamon sticks.  Fry for 20-30 seconds until the mustard seeds are popping vigriously.
  5. Now add the curry leaves which will spit quite a lot if they are fresh.  allow them to spit for 10-20 seconds before adding the green chillies and onions together.
  6. Let the green chillies and onions cook on high heat until they start to soften.  You don’t want them to go brown.  Just to sweeten by softening them a little.
  7. Finally make a little space in the frying pan by moving the onions to the side and add the asofodetia.  Allow this to fry for 10 second or so before stiring it into the onions and tipping the entire contents of the pan into the kadhi which should have started to thicken.
  8. To get all the flavour from the pan I usually add a few spoons of the kadhi into the frying pan, stir around and tip it back into the kadhi.
  9. Stir the kadhi well and bring to a boil.  Add salt to taste- about 1 1/2 tsp should do… Add less first as the yoghurt may have some salt in it.
  10. Let the kadhi cook on a simmer for 10 minutes or so to let the flavours of the spices develop.
  11. About 5 mintures before serving add the tomatoes and stir.  You can switch off the heat when you do this.  And top with the chopped coriander.
  12. Serve with a bowl of freshly cooked basmati rice.

*Meat Free Tuesdays*: The Oxford Street Christmas lights are up already! Time for a winter warmer: Toor Dal two ways

So I was walking on Oxford street the other night and it was surprisingly noisy considering the time of night it was.  As I looked ahead, there were huge cranes towering with people on them making lots of drilling noises.  As I got closer I could finally see that they were erecting  London’s Christmas lights; the huge light studded umbrellas and Christmas presents that were going to adorn the streets for the next few months.  It brought a feeling of coziness and warmth to me.  Something I needed since summer never really re-appeared since I last posted.  The thought of Christmas approaching has sated my being.

Speaking of when I last posted, it has been a long hiatus during which many things have happened…many dishes prepared, recipes discovered, new people, old people met, new places, old places travelled to;  not forgetting to mention my garden harvest that was bursting with plums, apples and pears as well as a plethora of other delicious edibles that I was quite proud of.

I have to say though,  I haven’t been in the kitchen as much as I would have liked these past few months.  My spirit has been dampened slightly.  Sometimes things in other parts of your life take over and you can so easily forget the simple joys that your kitchen can bring.

Anyway, I am back!  And hopefully for awhile as I  have a number of recipes that I wish to share, and although their seasonality is more or less over, I will endeavor to write posts soon.

Getting back to the topic of this post.  Since I started my oh so clever idea of  making Tuesday a day to abstain from eating meat (family tradition being my motivation) and so promising a weekly delicious, vegetarian recipe offering to make you forget your desire to be carnivorous,  I realise I have not kept to my word.   I am ashamed to say that I have even had some readers protest over their absence! (I am slapping my own wrists at my broken promises, I can assure you.)

Toor Dal – two ways

Today I am sharing a recipe for an extremely versatile dal recipe- Toor Dal (Split Pigeon Peas).  Although a dal that is not traditionally cooked by the northern Indian people, it is one that can be found in many different forms in other parts such as in the southern and western India.  Being that my family originates from the North, toor dal is not something that you’d find in any Punjabi family’s repertoire   Lucky for me and my family’s movement around the globe and India for that matter; our family has adopted influences from many other cuisines, one of my favourites and most prominent in our repertoire are influences from the Gujarati cuisine.  Gujarati’s tend to use a lot of sweet and sour flavours in their recipes, hence the star flavours in this dish are jaggery for the sweetness and kokum phool for the sour (a dried sour flower that is specifically used in Gujarat- widely available in UK asian supermarkets.  Gujarati cuisine incorporates sweetness in the majority of it’s savoury dishes, something unheard of in northern India.  There are a number of dishes that my family make that have that Gujarati sweet and sour element fused with Punjabi flavour. The fusion dishes are sometimes the tastiest.

Toor dal is specifically made from split shelled pigeon peas.  You can find these in Indian stores in two formats.  Coated with oil or without. My family has always used the oil coated ones.  I am not quite sure why, but if I remember correctly I was once told that they stay fresher when coated with oil…maybe the dry ones tend to taste bad if kept for too long?  Regardless, the oil is washed off prior to cooking so I don’t think it would make much of a difference which you use.

The recipe I am giving you today has some Punjabi influences, but the essence is Gujarati.  It can be used to make two meals- one where the dal is cooked with a vegetable called drumsticks and the other uses the left over dal  that you can transform  into Dal Dhokali.

Toor Dal with Drumsticks

Serves 8

Ingredients for the dal

1 1/2 cups toor dal (oily or without oil) Wash both dals well, but if using the oily kind, rub well to remove the oil and wash until the water is more or less clear.  You can also soak this dal overnight to shorten the cooking time.

1 small/medium onion chopped

2-3 inches ginger grated

1/2 a garlic (6-8 pods) grated

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder or to taste

1/2 cup of dried kokum phool rinsed and then soaked in enough water to just cover them just before you start cooking. If you can’t find kokum you can substitute 1-2 limes or a few tbsp tamarind paste to taste for the sourness.

2-4 tbsp jaggery/ palm sugar to taste (If you need to substitute with brown sugar, use less)

salt to taste

Ingredients for the tarka

3-5 green chilies depending on strength-  to taste

1 rounded tsp cumin

1 rounded tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1-3 pieces of cassia bark or cinnamon sticks equivalent of about 2 inches

5-6 cloves

12 or so fresh curry leaves (you can sometimes find these frozen.  If you do find them fresh- they do freeze well if you don’t need them all.  Use directly from the freezer.  Do not defrost.)

1/4- 1/2 tsp Asafoetida/hing (optional- some people dislike the sulfurous smell.  I do not like to cook without it in many Gujarati dishes.  It adds a flavour you cannot replicate with anything else.  It is not the end of the world if you omit it though.)

1-2 tsp ground coriander powder

3 tbsp oil

The Vegetables

2 drumsticks prepared and cut into 3-4 inch sticks.  You can also buy these frozen – I used about 1/2 pack. (If you cannot find drumsticks you can omit them or add other vegetables such as carrots)

2 flavourful tomatoes chopped into large chunks

1 large onion chopped in to large chunks

Fresh coriander finely chopped for garnishing

Method

  1. Take all the ingredients for the dal apart from the jaggery, salt and kokum and put them into a large heavy based pan or a pressure cooker and top with 4-5 cups of water.  If pressure cooking allow 2-3 whistles if you have soaked the dal, if not allow 5-6.  You want to pulverise the dal as much as possible. If using a regular pan cook until dal is mashably soft- about 30 mins.
  2. Once the dal is soft, take a hand blender or a whisk and completely mash the dal to a smooth consistency. Check the thickness- you want it to be no thicker than single cream.  Add water accordingly.  Also add the salt to taste, the kokum or lime/tamarind and jaggery. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 mins.
  3. While the dal is simmering, make the tarka: Heat the oil and add the cumin,  mustard seed, cloves and cassia bark and allow to flutter. Next add the curry leaves which will splutter. Add the green chilies and fry for a 20-30 seconds. Finally add the fenugreek seeds, the asafoetida and the coriander powder.  Do not cook too much more as the fenugreek seeds can turn bitter (15-20 seconds).  Add the entire pan of tarka to the dal that is simmering .
  4. Stir the dal well to distribute the tarka.  Now taste to check salt, sweet and sour. There should be a good balance of all.  Adjust by adding more jaggery if you need more sweetness, if there is too much sweetness add some lime or a little tamarind.
  5. Add the tomato chunks,  onion chunks and drumsticks and allow to simmer for 15 mins.
  6. The dal is now ready.  Garnish with coriander and serve with plain steamed basmati rice.

Dal Dhokali

The recipe for the dal is as above. If you are using left over dal you will need to thin it – add 1-2 cups of water for a more brothy consistency.  The quantity of ingredients given here is enough for left over dal.  If you are making the dal fresh, I suggest doubling the dhokali recipe below.

Ingredient for the Dhokali

100g wholewheat chapatti flour

25g besan – chickpea flour

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 red chili powder – or to taste

1 tsp ajawan seeds lovage/carom seeds (optional – adds a new flavour and compliments it well)

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tbsp oil

water to make into a stiff dough

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and make a stiff dough that will roll out with ease- about the texture of playdoh.
  2. Add water to left over dal and check seasoning.  Adjust accordingly, bring to a boil and allow to simmer.  If using fresh keep it on a simmer.
  3. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll out each one as thinly as possible- a couple of mm at the most. Use either flour or an oiled surface to help you roll.
  4. Use a pizza cutter to cut out diamond shapes as the picture below shows.
  5. Drop the dough pieces in to the simmering dal and allow to cook for 10-20 minutes.  When the dal has thickened slightly, check the dhokali is done (they will have expanded like pasta, but they do naturally have a slightly doughy texture similar to gnocchi.)
  6. When ready serve and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.

Berry Delicious!

I feel a sudden influx of posts coming your way courtesy of the glorious British summer Sun that decided to reappear sending Rainy Rains-A-Lot far, far away (fingers crossed!) Too much fun has been sucked out of summer, it was about time, not to mention that it was high time the sun started doing it’s job and ripening the last of my blueberries!

While I wait for the Sun to ripen the last of the fruit on the blueberry bush I procured in early spring and various other delicious edibles I have growing in the garden, I picked up a couple of punnets of my favourite berry from the supermarket the other day to cheer me up.  Blueberries blueberries blueberries.  There is something about the blueberry that makes me entirely happy.  As I pop each fat, juicy,  flattened marble berry in my mouth I feel that purple-y goodness doing it’s job!

I usually don’t like to cook blueberries I prefer eating them raw and will only end up cooking them if I feel that they are not at their absolute best to enjoy eating fresh.  The blueberries I bought the other day had been forgotten as I have been in and out of town a lot recently.  Trying to save 2 large punnets from their diminishing freshness by consuming them all in one go was a bit much.  To add to this list of forgotten fruit, I had also bought a baby super-sweet pineapple and some new season nectarines that were nearing the end of their peak ripeness too.  As I strongly dislike waste, there was a lot of fruit to make into something tasty.

When I eat  blueberries raw, I usually buy them together with either peaches or nectarines if they are in season.  I chop the fruit up to match the berry size up and mix together.  This makes a delicious combination.  Another favourite combination, actually, probably my most favourite way to eat them is with chopped fresh pineapple.   With the addition of some freshly shredded mint, the combination is DIVINE; I don’t think anything could make me remember what summer should feel like or pick me up more than this on dreary days like we’ve been having.

After the best nectarines were eaten, I decided to slices a few of them up and add them to half the blueberries to make a tart.  While slicing, a bottle of Elderflower cordial caught the corner of my eye.  Every summer I have a ritual that I started a few years ago to buy a bottle of Elderflower cordial and a bottle of St Germain (Elderflower liqueur) at the start of summer.  There is  something that is just so quintessentially British about Elderflower (although St Germain is entirely French…which kind of makes me love it more….and the bottle too.) and even if the weather is not so good,  the mere smell of it reminds me that it’s summer.  It’s one of my memory flavours.  I will happily drink a concoction of St Germain & Gin (sometimes topped with Champagne) on any summer night, if only to act as a reminder that we are in fact in July/August and not October as the weather would like to have us believe. Anyway, the memory flavour got my experimentation juices going and I decided to pair the blueberries and nectarines with the elderflower cordial.  In my head I’d married the most perfect summer flavours together, so I doused the sliced nectarines and blueberries in a good 3 or 4 glugs of cordial while I set my sights on the pastry base.

I always have pastry in the freezer- especially sweet tart pastry as you never know when you need a quick last minute dessert and a tart can be quite impressive at short notice!  My slabs of pastry are flattened quite thin before I freeze them purely for the reason that they defrost quicker this way (10-15 minutes tops).  I was feeling particularly lazy and decided that I wouldn’t even bother with a tart tin so once the pastry had defrosted, I rolled it straight onto parchment paper that was on a rimless baking sheet into something that roughly resembled a circle, ready for encasing the topping.  All that was required then was to mix some sugar with the fruit before tipping out the contents on to the pastry and gently folding up the edges to envelope what would become  fragrant, syrupy, juicy jewels after some time in the oven.   The tart was delicious and I would definitely make this combination again.  In fact, I think it would make a delicious cocktail too! Peach nectar muddled with blueberries, mint, some glugs of St Germain and topped with champagne.  You know you want to try it!

Fragrant Nectarine, Blueberry & Elderflower Tart

This is so simple, quick and easy.  A perfect way to use up a glut of berries.  Use whatever berries you have to hand.  Raspberries would also work fabulously here.  Serve warm with vanilla icecream.  The perfect summer pud!

Serves 5-8

Ingredients

250-300g Pâte Sucrée or if you want to try something different with a more tender texture try Rugelach pastry which is made with cream cheese.  (Recipes to follow or use your favourite )

4-5 nectarines slices

1 punnet of bluberries approx 200-300g

a couple of heaped tbsp caster sugar

some glugs of elderflower cordial (1/4-1/2 cup)

Method

  1. In a bowl place the sliced nectarines, blueberries and elderflower cordial and leave to the side while you prepare the pastry.
  2. Pre Heat the oven to 165C
  3. On the baking tray you are going to be cooking on, roll out the pastry into a round shape about about 3-4mm thick.  You need to make it bigger than you want the final tart to be as you will be folding in the edges considerably (about 3-5cm )
  4. Empty the contents of the fruit into the middle of the pastry and sprinkle over the sugar generously
  5. Fold up the sides of the pastry to envelop the fruit, but still leaving enough to show them in the middle.
  6. Place the tray in the oven and cook until the fruit is soft and caramelised and the pastry is uniformly golden.  About 25 -35 mins
  7. Allow to cool a little before serving. This dessert is delicious alone or with some vanilla ice-cream

My Favourite Way To Eat Blueberries

Seeing that I didn’t use all the blueberries, I ended up cutting the pineapple into small bite sized chunks and after nipping outside to pick some fresh mint,  I finely shredded the mint it and garnished the fruit.  The only good way to mix the fruit is with your hands and so with impeccably clean hands I ensured an even distribution of all the flavours.  If you leave it to macerate in the fridge for an hour or so it’s even more delicious!

All you need are some ripe, plump, juicy blueberries, fresh pineapple cubed and mint to taste, shredded. Mix well, serve and enjoy. :)

Chicken, Chive & Garlic Quenelle Style Dumpling Soup For The Heart & Soul

My first July post.  It’s the second week of Wimbledon and the first week in July, but of course, it feels like October! Welcome to the British Isles!
Normally at this time of year I’d be craving delicious salads that I could dress with interesting concoctions, I’d be enjoying the best of the summer fruit and the long summer nights outside. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the slightest inclination to make a salad or even enjoy a simple bowl of strawberries today.

After an extremely long weekend of labour, my plans for this week were dashed unexpectedly and the summer sun has hardly offered a glimmer of warmth to compensate, therefore my answer to this is soup.

I’ve talked about the magic of soup in my previous posts and today called for some of the special pick-me-up kind.  I was trying to decide what kind to make when I remember an episode of Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen.  The one where she makes that delicious, quick and easy looking Chicken Dumpling soup.  That was it.  My heart made up my mind.

Trying to remember the episode, I looked it up on YouTube and found the clip which was barely 3 minutes and so after a quick watch of the clip I set about gathering ingredients to make my own version.  I had a quick walk outside to see what I could gather from the garden and after an armful of delicious produce( carrots, bay, thyme, kale and chives ) from my ever expanding kitchen garden (at least the plants are enjoying the rain in July!) I set about making my own rustic & hearty variation of Rachel’s recipe.

 My Chicken, Chive & Garlic Quenelle Style Dumpling Soup

For the  Dumplings:

This recipe yields enough quenelles for 2 lots of the soup recipe below. (About 32-36)  I’d estimate this dumpling recipe serves 6-8 people well, but be sure to adjust the broth quantity accordingly. I made this recipe larger as I wanted to try freezing half the mixture for a super quick soup fix for next time or try poaching and then baking the quenelles in a Gratin de Quenelles de Volaille of sorts.  I will keep you posted when I come around to it.  If you just want to make enough for the broth below, half this recipe.

Ingredients

400g  skinless, boneless chicken meat.  I used a mix of thigh and breast, but either alone would also work well.  Ensure that tendons and gristly bits are removed.

200g stale white bread. The white bread adds to the fluffiness.

200ml cream- whatever you have to hand (single, double, whipping).  I had double

2 eggs and 2 yolks or 3 eggs will work too.  More yolk adds a richness. If you’re halving the recipe 1 egg and 1 yolk would work best.

2 cloves of garlic crushed

4-5 tbsp finely chopped chives.

salt and pepper

Method

  1. Take all the ingredients above apart from the chives and put in a food processor.  Blend until a whipped paste consistency in acheieved.
  2. Remove mixture from food processor bowl or if your food processor bowl fits in your fridge, then just take the blade out and stir in the chives well.
  3. Refrigerate the mixture while you prepare the broth.
  4. Once the broth is ready, make quenelle shapes of the chicken mixture by shaping with 2 tablespoons and drop into the broth.
  5. The dumplings are done when the float to the surface, about 5 minutes.
For the Broth :

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 l  homemade chicken stock (4 1/2l water, chicken bones of 1 or 2 chickens -I keep some bones in the freezer after a roast or when I am de-boning a chicken for something else, a bay leaf, small onion halved, 1 carrot in chunks. Simmer for an hr.) or if you’re in a rush an equal measure of  good quality ready made stock or as a last resort 2-4 good quality organic chicken stock cubes/chicken boullion, quantity used dependent on the salt content.  Try Kallo and taste for seasoning after the second cube. Add a bay leaf to the two alternatives for flavour.

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 carrots finely cubed

2 sticks of celery finely cubed

2-3 cloves of garlic crushed

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

a few springs of fresh thyme or parsley (optional)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt pepper

8 or so large leaves of kale or greens of your choice finely shredded to add at the end (optional)

  1. Heat a pan and add the oil and butter.  I like to use some butter for the flavour, but some oil too as it doesn’t create a film on a broth soup as much as butter does.
  2. Sweat the onions for 5 mins on a medium heat ensuring that they don’t brown.
  3. Add the celery and carrot and sweat for a further 5-8 mins or until softened.
  4. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, until the raw smell disappears
  5. Now pour in the stock and bring to the boil before adjusting the seasoning.
  6.  Finally add the optional apple cider vinegar.  This really lifts the dish and cuts through the richness of the quenelles.
  7. Now follow the instructions above for cooking the quenelles.
  8. Once floating to the surface, switch off the heat and stir in the shredded kale and sprigs of thyme/parsley if using and serve immediately with some hearty sourdough.


*Meat Free Tuesday* The Foolproof One Stop Masala For Virtually Any Indian Vegetable Dish

I have been extremely tardy with my *Meat Free Tuesday* posts the last few weeks!  It all started so well, but then I got caught up in friends and family time and never got around to posting.  Rest assured, I have continued with the ritual, albeit not blogging my efforts!  For this reason, I have a special post planned for next week that should make up for the missed entries.  Some hints as to the theme are that it will be spicy, sweet, savoury, refreshing and all about the outdoors! I hope you will come back to check it out!

In the meantime, I am sharing with you a simple, but favourite vegetarian dish of mine.  When I was a child I would always looked forward to this for two reasons: firstly because it contained paneer (Indian soft cheese), one of my favourite things to eat as a child and secondly it was always so colourful; you eat with your eyes first, right? My mother wouldn’t make this very often as my father prefered paneer in the bhurji style (crumbled and soft like scrambled egg) .  In this dish the paneer in compressed into blocks, cubed and then fried- you can buy both the blocks and pieces- fried and unfried at both Indian and regular supermarkets all over the UK.  If you buy the blocks, simply cube and deep or shallow fry until a gentle golden edge is achieved evenly.  A home made version is tastier and softer, but a little time consuming. It all boils down to the milk (no pun intended :) ) I say this because in Canada, the store bought paneer is excellent and I am sure it’s down to the milk.  I highly recommend the Canadian brand Guru Nanak if you have that in your area- saves a lot of time!   In the following weeks I shall be dedicating a post to paneer with a recipe of how to make your own at home as it’s a useful ingredient to make for use in both sweet and savory recipes as well as a great way to use up excess milk!

My mother would tend to make this dish when we had people over as it contains no real objectionable vegetable for the token fussy eater to dislike and so the chances are that it would be enjoyed by all.  The other reason I have chosen to share this recipe is because it is extremely versatile meaning that you can substitute other vegetables that you have to hand.  What makes this dish is the masala base.  If you can master this, you can apply this to virtually any vegetable combination with minor adjustments and or additions.  Each combination will taste different as the masala will enhance each vegetable’s natural flavour.  This recipe is simple, quick and delicious.

Mum’s Mixed Vegetable Subzi

Ingredients

For the base masala:

1 onion finely chopped

1-3 green chillies chopped finely (the long thin kind you get in Indian grocers Rocket chillis.  They have the best flavour and aren’t ridiculously hot- a less hot version of Thai bird’s eye chilies.  If in North America, I prefer the flavour of Jalapeno to Serrano chilies, but I have found Rocket chilies in some specialist stores there, too)

a handful of baby plum tomatoes halved/ the equivalent of what you have to hand or 1/2 a tin

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp garam masala plus extra for sprinkling

1/2- 3/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp red chili powder (to taste, also bear in mind the heat you get from your green chilies and adjust accordingly)

salt to taste

3-4 tbsp oil

Additional spices specific to this dish

1tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds whole

1 tsp fennel seeds crushed for sprinkling

The Vegetables

1 carrot cubed

1 large or 2 small red peppers cubed

3-4 golf ball size potatoes cubed

1 pack of fine Kenya beans or fine french beans (about 200-250g) cut into 2cm pieces

To make it colourful- throw in some sweetcorn too if you have it

1- 1 1/2 cups cubed and fried paneer

coriander to garnish

Method

  1. To prepare the base masala that you can use with almost all vegetables, heat a wide based pan with 3-4 tbsp oil to a moderately high heat.
  2. Add the cumin, and for this particular recipe also add the mustard seeds and whole fennel seeds and allow to splutter.  You can use the mustard seeds with most vegetables also, but the fennel seeds tend to only marry well with certain combinations such as with aubergine, bitter gourd and okra- although for my taste, I wouldn’t put mustard seeds with either of the last two.  There is no wrong or right, per se- you just need to experiment and find the flavour combinations that you enjoy.
  3. Next add the onions and green chilies and allow the onions to become slightly translucent.  You do not need to caramelise them. About 5 mins.
  4. Then add the tomatoes and cook to soften them and you start to see the oil separating.  About 5 mins. (See picture above)
  5. Next add the ground spices- turmeric, coriander, red chili powder and salt.  (I always use about 1 1/2 tsp for most dishes and it’s fine.  You can adjust later too)  Fry these for a minute. Do not let them touch down in the pan.  This is now your base masala complete.   (See picture above)
  6. Now add all the vegetables and on high heat stir well to coat the vegetables with all the masala.
  7. Bring pan to a steaming heat and before putting on the lid to steam, sprinkle over the crushed fennel seeds and garam masala. For other vegetable combinations I would just use the garam masala, but it is not an essential stage- it can be omitted.
  8. Put a lid on and put the heat right down to the lowest setting on a gas cooker.  If you are using another kind of stove, bring the heat down to a 2-3 so that it’s just below a simmer.  You want to gently steam the vegetables without them catching on the bottom of the pan and without adding water.
  9. The dish is ready when the vegetables are cooked- about 10-15 mins.
  10. Garnish with fresh coriander and a little sprinkling of crushed fennel seeds if you like.

Serve with fresh naan or roti and yogurt.  This makes a great main dish or vegetable accompaniment.  Try it together with a dal for a complete vegetarian Indian meal.

My Version Of Chicken Dhansak Dedicated to my Father

A few weekends ago I visited my ever growing collection of cook books.  There isn’t suitable shelving to keep them in the kitchen so I have dedicated a little cubby hole in the hallway with two book shelves that face each other for my brimming collection.  Inevitably what happens is by the end of each week I have a pile of books to take back to their home from kitchen.  When I took last week’s pile back I realised that they just did not fit probably due to a couple of new members to my cook book family. It seems that now I must leave a pile of books homeless in the kitchen as my new additions have no home on the bookshelf!  Time to buy bigger shelves…..

I ended up picking out a few to keep in the kitchen- mostly Indian ones as I seem to be going through a bit of  a back to my roots phase.  I found one that was particularly well loved  that my father had bought in India a number of years ago.  Although I have used it before, you could tell that it was a book that my father enjoyed and used well.  Apart from the pages of his favourite recipes slightly dogeared and worse for wear, his trademark highlighter marking was garnished throughout the book as it was in most books he read; the more highlighter, the more he like the book.  Any time I come across a book that has been highlighted, I smile.

My father adored cooking and learning new methods of cooking.  His speciality was any kind of meat, especially anything BBQ related, as is what most alpha-male-part-time cooks would say and claim to be their “territory” when it comes to the kitchen.  Saying that, my father was not only a magnificent BBQ-er, he made delicious dal and meat curries too. In fact whatever he made tasted utterly scrumptious.  He certainly knew his way around the spice box and was able to marry flavours together with perfection.   One thing that always made us laugh was his method of cooking.  He was certainly the head chef and he would make sure that he had his sous chefs on hand whenever he was cooking.

When I was a child, I remember my father gathering my sister and me in the kitchen when he was ready to cook something.  As it was an occasional foray in the kitchen for my father, it was a treat when he decided to take over for the day as he would involve us and let us do things like chopping and stirring.  My mother didn’t let us do things like this when we were so young as it would slow her down when she was trying to prepare dinner everyday for the entire family after a long day at work.   My father would sit on the kitchen table in his chair, spice boxes and bottles of seasonings surrounding him, he would concoct his marinades or masalas.  Of course, my sister and I were not idol- we were put to work! Peeling the ginger, garlic and onions, fetching whatever was on on the kitchen table already (my mother stayed out of the kitchen on these occasions for this reason- my father would literally have everything out of the cupboards and the mess would be beyond her tolerance level!).  I never saw it as work, I loved watching my father and helping him.  I don’t think he realised how much he taught me in the way that he cooked and how different it was to my mother or grandmother. My experimental tendencies certainly come from my father.  These were some of those treasured memories I have spending time with him and him sharing something that he loved to do with us;  in turn it has become one of my own passions in life.

My Chicken Dhansak

I dedicated this recipe to my father because this is the kind of dish he loved.  He loved a good  hearty, flavourful meat or chicken curry and although not something we’d traditionally cook in our family, I remember Dhansak being one of his favourites.  My recipe has elements of a traditional Parsi Dhansak, but with a touch of flavour and texture variation from me.  For me, I love the  heartiness of slow cooked dishes.  This one is not only hearty because of the lentils and vegetables, but there is a deliciousness that comes from cooking on the bone makes this as tasty as it is nutritious.  It’s a  wonderfully simple one pot dish  (if you omit the tempering and fried onions stage) to make for gatherings and served with freshly made *naan or tandoori style roti, some fresh yoghurt and some freshly sliced sweet onions.

If you are in the mood for lamb dhansak over chicken, this recipe will work just as well for lamb.  You can use lamb on the bone or off , but you will need to cook for a little longer and on a gentle heat to ensure the meat is not tough.

This recipe can make enough for up to 10 people depending on the size of your chicken.  If you have left overs, this freezes beautifully too.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken de-skinned and cut into 12 pieces or 1.5-2kg of thigh/leg on the bone de-skinned

100g Toor dal (split pigeon peas)

100g Masoor dal (split red lentils)

100g yellow Moong dal

2 large onions chopped finely

2 tbsp grated ginger

2 tbsp grated garlic

3-4 long green chilis (blend these with the ginger and garlic paste)

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 good sized aubergine cubed (about 200g)

1 sweet potato peeled and cubed – red or white (about 400g)

Tamarind paste to taste (about 3-4 tbsp)

2-3 tbsp ghee or butter (if using ghee, only use home made- store bought ghee does have the same flavour.  Butter is a much better option)

3-4 tbsp Oil plus extra for frying onions for the topping

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

2-3 large black cardamom pods

5-6 cloves

2 inch cassia bark/cinnamon stick

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp coriander powder

2 tsp red chili flakes or powder

2-3 tsp garam masala (mine if homemade and in the punjabi style, you can use one that you like)

1/4- 1/2 cup kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) depending on the strength

salt to taste (about 2 tsps)

Fresh green coriander/cilantro for garnishing

1 large onion sliced finely to fry until deeply caramalised for garnishing

2 tsp of butter, 1 tsp cumin seeds, `1 tsp of kasoori methi and 1/2 tsp of garam masala for tempering.  (this is optional step and the end.  It adds a nice buttery flavour, but if you omit it, the dish will taste just as good)

** For my tsp measurements when cooking non baked items, I use an eating tsp…they are not level measurements – more rounded/heaped and so a little more than a measured tsp. The measurements I have given are exactly what I used at the time I made this, but each time I make something I rarely follow the same recipe verbatim; there is always room for adjustments, experimentation and of course substitution when you don’t have all the ingredients to hand.   Indian food is all about Andaza (guesstimates) so do what feels right for you.  Substitute if you need to and use my measurements as guidelines to work from!**

Method

  1. Wash the dals 3-4 times and leave to soak for an hour or so or overnight.  If you forget to soak them, you can just wash them and use them as they are, the only difference is a reduction in the cooking time when you soak them.
  2. Heat a wide heavy based pan and add 3 tbs of oil and the 2 finely chopped onions.  Fry at a gentle sizzle for 20- 30 mins stirring occasionally to ensure that they don’t burn.  You are looking for a light caramel colour. (See picture above) They are ready when they are transculent and the sugars are deepening and becoming sticky on the bottom of the pan. About 10-20 mins
  3. Turn the heat up slightly and add 1-2 tbsp butter or ghee.  Allow to melt and then add the whole spices (cassia bark, black cardamon, black pepper, cumin and cloves.  Saute  until the cumin pops.
  4. Next add the ginger, garlic and green chili paste and cook for 2-3 mins.  Do not let it stick to the bottom of the pan.  If it starts to stick, add a little more butter/ghee or oil.  It is important that the onions and garlic do not burn or brown too much as they will lose the sweetness and flavour that they impart to the dish. (See picture above)
  5. Next add the tomatoes and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes. 3-5 mins
  6. Then add the powder spices- the tumeric, red chili powder, garam masala, coriander powder, kasoori methi, and salt.  Cook for 1-2 mins to release the flavours.
  7. Now turn up the heat to the highest temperature and add the chicken.  Coat the chicken pieces with the masala stirring well to ensure the masala does not touch down in the pan.
  8. Allow the meat to cook like this on high heat for about 1-2 mintues before adding the soaked dals with some water and then the aubergine and the sweet potato. Add enough water to cover all that is in the pan.  Stir well and allow to come to a boil.
  9. Put a lid on and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35-45 mins or until the dal is done and the chicken is coming off the bone.
  10. While the dal is cooking take the sliced onions and fry them generously in oil until they are browned and crispy on the edges.  Drain on kitchen paper and reserve.
  11. When the chicken is done and the meat is starting to fall of the bone,  take a slotted spoon and remove all the chicken pieces from the dal and leave to the side so that they come to a temperature whereby you can handle them to remove the meat.
  12. Meanwhile take a potato masher as now the vegetables and dal will be very soft and roughly mash them in the pan.  If you see any of the whole spices you can remove them from the pan. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed.
  13. When you are able to handle the chicken, take it off the bones in chunks/large shreds.  Do not shred completely.  Discard the bones and add the chicken back to the dal.
  14. Mix the chicken well.  Check the consistency and add a little water if you feel it is too thick.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins.
  15. For the optional tempering stage- In a small frying pan take a 1-2 tsp butter and add 1 tsp of cumin seeds, 1 /2 tsp of garam masala and 1 tsp of kasoori methi and fry for a minute.  After the chicken has simmered, pour onto the chicken and stir well.
  16. Garnish with finely chopped coriander and the fried onions.  Serve with home made naan or roti, cucumber and yoghurt raita and some sliced sweet onions.

*A recipe for Naan will follow soon!

Turning Steaks Into Meat Balls And The Day I Found A New Way To Love Fresh Tuna! My Asian Style Spaghetti & Meat (Fish) Balls

There are almost no instances in which I have ever enjoyed fresh tuna well cooked where all the pinkness (taste, texture, life) has been sucked out of it.

Nothing beats ultra fresh sashimi grade tuna eaten just as it is.  There is no smell of fish- just an undercurrent of the sea.  And the flesh, well the flesh is so unctuously meaty, but so soft it melts as you chew.  For me, good quality tuna sashimi is close to perfection.  When I buy tuna steaks that are not of the sashimi grade, the way I like to cook them is to marinate them for a short while, then quickly sear the steak on all sides to create a firm, pale casing around the soft, deep pink flesh, that in my humble opinion, tastes and feels wrong if it cooked any further.  This is the only way that I have found that it could be possible to enjoy fresh tuna when the need to cook it arises.  I have never understood how and why people cook them all the way through?  If you want the cooked stuff, would  it not just be better to open a can of tuna instead?

Last week I was faced with a dilemma.  I had bought some tuna steaks with the intention of cooking them just as have detailed above- with a light sear and an Asian marinade to go with some Chinese broccoli and spiced noodles.  Simple, quick and delicious ……I thought…..

Unfortunately, when my guests arrived and we were congregating in the kitchen while I started to cook, a bomb was dropped.  Two of my dear friends mentioned their desire for me to cook their steaks well done.  I am sure you can imagine my internal reaction to this, which coincidentally didn’t take long to externalize, albeit in a pre watershed- esq fashion.  :)

This would mean that 2 of the 4  people eating were not going to enjoy or experience their meal as I would have intended or liked.  I needed to change things up which would possibly involve the unthinkable.  With my thinking cap on I opened my mind up to the crimes I could commit against the beautiful tuna steaks.

It didn’t take me long to adjust my mind to a life of crime and I pretty quickly decided that the only thing to do was to murder the steaks and make them into balls.  I had spaghetti and meatballs on my mind from earlier in the day (scenes from Lady and the Tramp will do that to a person) which gave me a sudden burst of excitement about changing things up and started to rummage in the fridge to get the dish on the road.

Once I minced the steaks and added in the original marinade that I was going to used, anything I could find that was Asian cuisine inclined went in to the mix before I rolled out the balls to fry them.  I added a sauce to the noodles and that was the day I created a new and utterly delicious way for me (and my friends) to enjoy fresh tuna steaks.  The moral I have reiterated to myself: Never Say Never.  :)

My Asian Spaghetti & Meatballs

Serves 4 (with extra meatballs to snack on later :) )

Although this is not as quick as just cooking steaks- if you have a food processor- you are barely going to add 5 minutes to your prep time as virtually everything can be chopped in there.  The result is deliciously, juicy, flavourful and fragrant meatballs with not a hint of dryness in sight.  The recipe is extremly versatile in that you can customise it to serve it as a starter, snack or main course ; I will definitely be trying out this recipe as a burger and as an hors d’oeuvre in the future.   I urge you to try this recipe and revolutionise the way you cook tuna steaks, too!

The Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 400- 450g tuna steaks
  • 30g ginger
  • 30 g garlic
  • 2 green chillies or to taste
  • half head of cabbage
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup packed finely chopped coriander
  • 1tbsp black sesame (if you only have the regular white ones- you can sub these)
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • enough oil to shallow fry
The marinade to mix into the meatballs
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2-3 tsp fish sauce (sub with light soy sauce for allergy issues)
  • 1 tbsp black vinegar (if you don’t have this Worcestershire sauce is a great alternative)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp  Shao Xing wine
The Noodle Sauce
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 15g minced ginger
  • 15g minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (optional)
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp fish sauce (optional- sub salt or light soy sauce)
  • 1- 2 tbsp black vinegar (slightly less if you’re using Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shao Xing wine
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1/4 cup coriander chopped
  • 2-3 spring onions chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp cornflour in 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 – 1 1/2cup water- or to preference

250 g udon noodles cooked in salted water (I used Clearspring Brown Rice Udon Noodles- highly recommended- were delicious)
1 bag bean sprouts washed (if you are not using these cook extra noodles – another 50g or so)
Sesame bonito topping for garnishing (optional)

Method

  1.  For the meatballs you will find it much easier if you have a food processor.  If not you will need to chop all of the ingredients as finely as possible and put in a bowl before adding the egg, breadcrumbs, sesame seeds and marinade.  If you have a food processor, process in stages.  First the ginger, garlic and chilies and red onion.  Then add the tuna to the mix and pulse to chop it, but not make it into a paste.  Remove contents and put in a bowl. Next chop the rest of the vegetables and coriander with the pulse button so that they are fine, but again not a paste or puree. Empty contents into the bowl with the tuna.
  2. Next add all the ingredients for the marinade, the egg, the breadcrumbs and sesame seeds.  Mix well and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  3. When the mix has rested shape into balls.  From this mixture you can make at least 18 golf sized balls- so adjust to the size you’d like.  You can also make these into burgers.  I would say you’d get 6 reasonably sized burgers.  Leave the balls to rest for 10 mins or so in the fridge if you have time.  If not you can cook them immediately without much issue.  Just turn when frying a little more frequently to retain a round shape if that is what you desire.
  4. Heat a wide based pan to shallow fry the balls.  Add enough oil so that the balls can fry without sticking- if you want to use less oil, use a non-stick pan.  Brown on all side.  About 5-7 mins cooking in total- more if you are making burgers.  Do not over cook as they will continue to cook a little with the residual heat in them.  When done set aside to rest.
  5. Now put the noodles on to cook while you make the sauce.  Heat the oil in a pan and add the ginger, garlic and chilies if you are using them.  Allow cook without browning too much.  With the heat on high, add all the sauces and boil for a minute.  Turn the heat down slightly and whisk in the cornflour mixed in water.  Add some more water depending on the quantity of sauce you want to make. Whisk to avoid lumps. If you want a thick sauce just coating the noodles- add a little less that the whole cup.  I find 1 extra cup of water is a good amount…next time I may add a little more than a cup as the noodles soak the sauce up quickly.  Bring the sauce to the boil where it will thicken and add the coriander leaves and spring onions.  Check for seasoning and adjust with extra soy sauce and black vinegar/ Worcestershire sauce.  Reserve about 1/2 cup of sauce to pour over the meatballs.
  6. Throw the drained noodles and the bag of beansprouts into the remaining sauce  and coat well.
  7. To serve,  plate the noodles and top with your desired number of meatballs (3-4 is a good portion) .  Finally, if you have it- garnish with my sesame bonito topping (recipe will be coming soon!) or if not, a sprinkling of sesame seeds/and or finely chopped spring onions. Enjoy!!