*Meat- Free Tuesday* Acquiring Taste With Age: My Journey From Loathing To Loving Karelas

Being from a family of  longstanding foodies, there are not many edible things that I have yet to encounter if you discount most jungle survival food. (Even some of this I have tried.)  However, not all of the things I have tried have been love at first taste;  in fact some of them have taken me years to develop a taste for.  I particularly remember when I was younger there were a few Indian vegetables/dishes my family would cook that I would not look forward to eating at all.  One in particular I used to dread was karelas (bitter gourd).  They have a distinctive bitterness that was not appealing to me and I didn’t understand why the adults relished them so much.  I imagine they may have been appealing to kids that enjoyed bitter flavours  such as bitter lemon drinks or various penny sweets that had a bitter tang, but I was not one of those kids.  Firstly, I was definitely not a fan of penny sweets…the sugary, sweet, sour, fizzy, sometimes bitter, brightly coloured,  mostly jelified objects that you’d to find your friends smuggling into lessons.  You knew the sweets were coming out when you heard the signature rustle from their little neon candy-pink stripped paper bags coming from under their desks in order to get a mid lesson sugar rush/pick me up.  The only penny sweets that I bought from the tuck shop were cola bottles or white chocolate mice, but there were only so many of those I could eat before I felt sick.  Now I don’t think I could stomach them at all.

It was my birthday this past Sunday and I got to thinking about how my tastes have evolved as I have gotten older.  Bhindis, Punjabi Wadis, Karelas are all things that I never liked as a child and now that I am older I sometimes crave for!  I remember my mother making these dishes because she particularly loved them- especially Wadis.  She would bring stocks of them over from India on her trips as the ones you used to get here were never the same; fortunately we get some good imported ones now. Wadis look like hardened dumplings.  They are made from ground up lentil and mostly whole spices (you will be experiencing whole peppercorns guaranteed!) that are dried in the hot sun, which is why they taste so much better when they are from India; the Indian sun makes everything taste better. :)  To use the wadis, you must first fry them in some oil to release the aromas from the spices and cook the lentils.  You can then add them to various dishes in order to soften them as they are quite the tooth breaker if you attempt to eat them without some moisture softening them first!  My mother’s favourite way to cook them are with potatoes in a gravy or to add them to vegetable pilau for that added kick.  When we were younger, my sister and I would get very irritated and would have no choice but to religiously pick out any trace of wadis in whatever dish our mother added them to for her own enjoyment, but now that we’re older you may find us arguing over who is having the last one!

For my series of Meat-Free Tuesdays posts,  today I am sharing a simple recipe for Karela (bitter gourd).  Once a vegetable that I loathed, it has become one that I adore.  This dish  has the perfect balance of bitter from the karela, sourness from the amchoor powder (or lemon), sweetness and flavour from the onions, potatoes and spices; most importantly, the use of sauf ( fennel seeds) that just makes this dish sing!  My love affair with fennel seeds and their magical uses in Indian cookery will be a story for another day!  Karelas not only are delicious, they have many health benefits too.  In the Indian culture they are used for medicinal purposes to control blood sugar problems among many other diseases.

There are many ways in which you can cook karelas; they are particularly delicious left whole and stuffed with either spiced lamb kheema or a vegetarian spicy besan (chickpea flour) mix.  Today’s recipe is the easiest way I know to prepare them as well as my favourite.

Aromatic Bitter Gourd & Potato Subzi – Aloo Karela Subzi

Ingredients

  • 3-4 karelas (bitter gourds) scrapped a little on the outside and sliced into rounds  or 1 pack of frozen slices defrosted
  • 1-2 potatoes cut into thick chips or cubes- whatever you prefer
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1-3 green chilies-to taste
  • 1  plus 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp garam masala plus extra to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (optional)
  • 2 1/2 tsp roasted ground coriander
  • 1/2- 1 tsp amchoor (dried green mango powder) or some lemon juice
  • 1- 2 tsp sugar/palm sugar/jaggery to taste
  • some roasted ground cumin for sprinkling
  • salt to taste
  • Oil

Method

  1. Take the karela slices and salt them generously and leave in a bowl for 15-20 mins.  After this time you will notice that there will be some liquid in the bowl.  Squeeze the karela slices well, pat with some kitchen paper to dry and set aside.  The liquid contains the bitterness.  This bitterness is what contains the goodness/medicinal properties in karelas, so the more you squeeze, the more you remove.  I give them a good squeeze, but not so much that they loose their shape or too much of the bitterness.
  2. In a wide based pan heat some oil- about 5-6 tbsp.  You will need to use oil generously when cooking karelas as they do not achieve a good flavour unless they are golden and they will got get golden without enough oil however hard you try!  You can however drain what remains after they are done if you choose to.
  3. Add  1/2 tsp cumin seeds and the well squeezed and patted dry karela slices and fry on a high heat until the slices get crispy edges and are golden- about 5-10 mins stirring frequently. When done, with a slotted spoon, remove the karela slices and set aside.
  4. You may need to add a tbsp or so of oil in the pan if there is none remaining from the frying of the karelas- you need about 2-3 tbsps in the pan at this stage.
  5. Add 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp whole fennel seeds (if you really don’t like aniseed you can omit these, but they don’t taste aniseed-y in the same way that aniseeds do- particularly in this dish.   Instead they  add the most amazing dimension of taste of this dish) and allow to flutter before adding the finely chopped onions and green chilies.  Allow to fry until onions are translucent- about 3-4 mins
  6. Next add some spices- the ground coriander, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder and some salt to taste- about 1 1/2 tsp is the standard amount I use in dishes.  Fry for about a minute.
  7. Add the potatoes and stir well.  Cover and cook on a low heat until half cooked- about 5-10 mins (depending on how large you cut the potatoes).
  8. Take the lid off and now add the sliced onion, karela slices, amchoor or lemon, sugar, and some extra garam masala if you like.  Stir well and cover and cook to allow the flavours to meld together and the sliced onions to soften and sweeten- about 10 mins.
  9. When cooked, remove from heat and stir well.  Taste for salt, sweetness and sour- adjust according to taste.  Don’t add too much sugar- there is not meant to be a sweet taste…the sugar is there purely to balance the flavours.  Sprinkle over the crushed fennel seeds, some roasted ground cumin and extra garam masala if you like.  Garnish with chopped coriander/cilantro if you have it and serve with a dal and or plain yoghurt and freshly made chapattis! Delicious!

A Series of Vegetarian Recipes In Dedication To My Tradition of Meat- Free Tuesdays. Today: Baingan Aloo – The Full Colour & Flavour Edition

The past few weeks I have thought about dedicating a regular weekly post to a particular kind of cooking or baking.  Of course I love all kinds of cooking, but as some of you may know, I have a soft spot for baking and hence why I decided to make this my profession.  Creating and crafting sweet bakes has been my passion since forever.

Since starting this blog a few years ago it is certainly starting to evolve to be true of  it’s description: “A  Scrapblog of global culinary adventures, delicious discoveries and picture memories punctuated by life.”  Over time, I have however, archived a number of posts that were off topic or that I feel are not relevant now.  This year I restarted the blog with the focus back on my culinary adventures.  Cooking has taken over the burden of being my Kitchen Therapist from Baking in recent times.   For me cooking and creating a meal is much more than experimenting with new flavours, cuisines, techniques and whatnot…it’s about sustenance, family, love, daily life and so much more.  Cooking brings family and friends together and hence why there is no one more I’d rather cook for.

Unlike with baking, most of what I cook is by estimation or Andaza (as my Mother or Grandmother would say) and so I have never really thought to document my recipes or trials having learnt the methods and techniques from my elders and stored them in my head is enough for the most part.  However, there are times when I do want to recreate a dish that came out well and I’d rather be sure that it turns out good again or I want to share a recipe and so I realise documenting them comes in handy.  More than this, cooking is not just about the recipes; as I indulge myself more and more in experimentation I realise and appreciate the memories that are attached to the dishes I either want to recreate or the flavour memories that I have stored that I want to try to incorporate into something new.  It is the memories that make the dishes special.  For me, my love for cooking has evolved from my memories most of which I have my family to thank for.

Being from a Hindu family, a lot of the Indian food that we eat is vegetarian.  My family origins are Punjabi and my Grandparents were born in what is now Pakistan before both sides of my family had to relocate and  they moved literally all over the world  (I will save that story for another day!).   Even though my family in general is not vegetarian (bar a few members that choose to be out of  preference), we do have some religious traditions that we follow such as auspicious days that we will refrain from eating meat.   These days include religious days such a s Diwali and the 10 days of  Navratri and many more depending on which sect of Hinduism you belong to or participate in.  These events happen once a year, but there are also many Hindus that follow weekly traditions such as when they are fasting in dedication to a particular deity.  My family do not follow any particular deities as our beliefs stem from the Vedas (religious /spiritual scriptures) rather than the deities.  However due to my family’s friendships in other Hindu communities, when they moved, they adopted some traditions from the other sects that their friends followed.

One of these traditions is abstaining from eating meat every Tuesday.  When I was younger I don’t remember being told why we didn’t eat meat on Tuesdays.  I didn’t find it strange as it became a habit and something that I didn’t think about.  As I got older and more inquisitive, I did start to ask questions and my mother told me that for us,  it was because Tuesday is the day dedicated to Lord Ganesh (The God of good luck and fortune)  and Lord Hanuman (The protector from evil).  She went on to explain the significance and that out of respect we refrain from meat on that particular day in worship to these deities.

I like that I have a background to why, and I continue to do it out of family tradition and religious respect, but it is not just about that for me.  I like that I am dedicating  at least one day a week to remembering my spirituality and secondly giving my body a break from meat.  However much I love all kinds of meat, my body always feels happiest after eating fruits and vegetables.

And to this I begin  my weekly series of Meat- Free Tuesday Recipes!  Every week I will endeavour to bring you a favourite or experimental Indian vegetarian recipe .  There are so many to share for the vegetarian recipes are what the Indian cuisine is built on.

Aubergine, Potato & Pepper Sabzi In Full Colour Baingan Aloo Sabzi

As with many vegetarian Indian dishes, this is utterly wholesome and packed full of flavour.  Ready to serve within 30 mins; it’s a great addition to a weekday recipe repetior when you’re short of time.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 aubergines cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 1 large potato cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 1 large red pepper or 2 smaller ones cut into 1 inch square chunks
  • 2-4 tbsp sweet corn
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 1-3 green chilis chopped (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1-2 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (to taste)
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • salt to taste (about 1- 1 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp garam masala (I use a homemade one that I have made in the Punjabi style)
  • 1 spring onion and or fresh coriander/cilantro finely chopped for garnishing (optional)

Method

  1. Toast the cumin & mustard seeds in 2-3 tbs oil. When fluttering, add chopped onions & green chillies and fry until translucent for a couple of minutes.
  2. Next add the tomato paste and tomatoes  and a tbsp or so of water.  Cook until oil leaves the tomato paste- stirring to avoid the masala touching down in the pan.
  3. Add the dry spices- turmeric, coriander, red chilli and salt cook for 1-2 mins
  4. Next add all the vegetables and stir well coating them all with the masala evenly.  If the veg start to touch down in the pan, add a couple tbsp of water .
  5. Bring the pan to the boil and sprinkle over garam masala.
  6. Put a lid on the pan and turn the heat right down to a low setting- a very gentle simmer and cook for 15 mins of until the potatoes are done.
  7. Take lid off and stir.  Garnish with sliced spring onions and or finely sliced coriander.
  8. Serve with fresh hot chapattis, yogurt and dal or alone with rice or a salad for a lighter meal.  It keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

Behind the scenes: The making of the Elegant Tart that was Easy

Don’t you just love Bank holiday weekends?  Knowing that you have that extra day to switch off from the daily grind is a good feeling.  You can do whatever you wish without the need to rush in fear that the impending Monday work day is coming far too soon.  Hence why yesterday allowed for an indulgently slow, pottering paced Saturday.

I had been in the kitchen for most of the day cooking and concocting things that either I had saved because they needed much time and patience or were not on of my “urgent” must tries list.   So far I had made My Version of Chicken Dhansak (recipe will be coming soon.  Certainly is a must try, it turned out great!), I finished labeling the Chuunda bottles (sweet & spicy mango chutney/pickle) that I had made the night before- a bit of an experiment- flavour guessing was from memory and my memory did me proud! I also made some sushi rolls by request and was finally, albeit at a  leisurely pace, clearing up while the dinner was simmering away. I went into the garage to put some things away in the freezer and low and behold, whilst trying to rearrange the freezer to make things fit (the woes of culinary experimentation), my box of pastry discs I have made ready for rolling and baking caught my eye.   Seeing that I hadn’t made anything sweet so far and it was an excuse to lighten the freezer load (or so I’d have myself believe) I pulled out a disc of rich, dark, perfectly chocolate pâte sucrée with the intention to make something decidedly chocolate-y.  I don’t make dessert on a daily basis, but I do like to make something on the weekend and I had more than enough time to whip something up while dinner finished off.

I hadn’t decided what the filling was going to be, but as I speedily rolled out the dough after warming the disc in my hands slightly, into the tin it went with some well worn crumpled parchment paper  reserved solely for this purpose and on to that dumped in an obligatory elegant fashion (it is a tart after all) was a jar of baking beans that crashed down onto the crumpled paper with an alien sized hail stone thud before I finally put the tin into the oven to blind bake.  Phew! And breath…..  My habit of run on sentences never ceases to end.  For the record,  I do breath far more regularly when speaking than it may appear from my writing.  During this process of working at the speed of lightening, but still managing to take in sufficient oxygen,  in my head I had planned an almond frangipane filling with a hint of orange zest and warm toasty cinnamon…oh and maybe even some dark melted chocolate drizzled over. Deliciousness was in progress!

Alas, silly me forgot to check my stock levels of ground almonds!  When I did, I then realised I had run out from making scores of macarons  the previous weekend and that I was still awaiting delivery to replenish my larder.  However, this did not mean disaster or disappointment, as I have said before, one of my favourite things to happen is when I get the opportunity to make something up.  I decided I wanted to try and produce a similar texture to frangipane and so I went back in the garage to find something to make this happen.  There stood two  tins of condensed milk that were staring at me, enticing me with their dulce de leche ways, urging to be used and so it was decided that they would definitely  make the cut.  I grabbed the cans and decided I would base my concoction around my favourite Treacle Tart recipe with the addition of  some orange zest because I was entirely in the mood for a chocolate & caramel-ly orange flavoured tart and for good measure,  a dash of warmth from some cinnamon; it’s not like the flavours didn’t complement the dreary drizzly May we’ve been having so far!

The result was a resounding success: deliciously fantastic, super speedy to make & above all, foolproof.

Who knew that wholesome, elegant, easy and  tart were words that could belong together in the same sentence to mean something that is so utterly delicious?! Before you ask….yes, “dramatic” is the flavour of my mood today.

The deep, rich flavour and colour of the chocolate pâte sucrée beautifully complemented the filling, however I think that any good all butter pâte sucrée would work with this.  What I love about this recipe in particular is that the texture, although similar to a frangipane filling, it is slightly drier and chewy due to the condensed milk and  because there is no other sugar other than from the condensed milk for the filling, the tart is not too sweet lending itself to an array of topping options if you so please.  All in all, the lightness and the subtle sweetness of the filling make this tart more versatile in how you can serve it.  I highly recommend you have a go.  You can also try out different flavourings for the filling such as cardamom, lemon, lime, etc  in place of the orange & cinnamon. Try drizzling with some dulce de leche or some melted chocolate  Enjoy experimenting!

My Elegant Easy Tart 

Ingredients

  • 2 cans of condensed milk (approx 800g)
  • 75g  fine porridge oats (chop in food processor if you only have jumbo)
  • 100g- 125g stale white bread crumbs chopped finely (add the extra 25g if you want to achieve a lighter drier texture)
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 30g butter
  • zest of 1-2 oranges depending on the size
  • 1  tsp of cinnamon (to taste)
  • Enough  chopped pecans of flaked almond to garnish the top of the tart (about 1/2- 3/4 cup)
  • an 8-10 inch pâte sucrée/sweet short crust pastry tart that has been blind baked.  I used a chocolate pâte sucrée recipe that complemented this well, but a plain, vanilla, lemon or orange zest tart shell would all work too.  My recipes for tarts are for trade quantities and so I need to scale one down to update this post with.  In the meantime, you can use your favourite recipe for pâte sucrée/ sweet short cut pastry.

Method

  1. Once your tart shell is done, pre-heat the oven to 165C.
  2. Empty the cans of condensed milk and the butter in a non-stick pan and heat until melted and incorporated.
  3. Add the bread crumbs and porridge oats, cinnamon & orange zest and stir well.
  4. As soon as the mixture has cooled down slightly add the eggs mixing well to ensure the egg doesn’t curdle.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tart and top with the nuts of your choice.
  6. Cook until golden about 20-25 mins.
  7. Allow to cool slightly before serving.  You can drizzle the tart with some dulce de leche, chocolate or whatever takes your fancy to make a formal dessert as it tastes wonderful warm with some vanilla ice cream or Chantilly cream.  When at room temperature, this makes for an excellent addition to an afternoon tea.

When only a bowl of Noodles & Dumplings will do…..

Nothing quite gives you the same warmth than the combination that noodles and dumplings gives you.   Add some chicken to the mix and you have yourself a cure like no other that heals, comforts you and picks you up from the inside whether you have the flu or emotional heartache; It can be quite magical.

There are so many variations of noodles and dumplings and the choice to have them in a soup or a sauce or alone that the combinations could be endless.  This is the case more-so when you realise that noodles and dumplings make an appearance in so very many cultures and cuisines.  Starting with the king of them all in my opinion…the many varieties of Chinese noodles and dumplings- the Jiaozi is one of many kinds, Jewish Matzah balls, Russian Pelmenis, Japanese Gyzoas, Tibeten/Indian Momos, Turkish Mantis, Polish Perogies, Korean Mandus, Indian Muthiya, Italian Ravioli, French Quenelles, German Knödels …and then the noodles,  rice noodles, wheat noodles, mung bean noodles, shirataki noodles, vermicelli, Spätzle,  pasta noodles, soba noodles,  udon,… my lists could go on and on, but I think the picture is clear.

Noodles and dumplings are loved by so many cultures because there simply isn’t anything else that is as comforting as these two humble foods.   And when you eat them together, they make the ultimate comfort food because no matter where you are or who you are with, you will feel like you are being taken care of; that warm, loved feeling you get when you eat whatever food your mother or grandmother prepares for you.

Pork & Coriander Dumplings with Vegetables & Soba Noodles in a Oyster, Chili & Garlic-Ginger sauce

This is a combination that I made up myself so I cannot vouch for any kind of authentic identity it may have as there are both Japanese and Chinese flavours and ingredients in here.  Nevertheless, it turned out delicious.  You should try it!

Ingredients

Serves 5-6

  • 170g Soba noodles
  • 1/2 head of cabbage finely sliced
  • 2 red peppers slices
  • 1 1/2 cups of sliced mushrooms
  • 1 small head of broccoli florets
  • 1 carrot chopped into matchsticks.
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
  • One quantity of Oyster & Chili Garlic-Ginger Sauce (recipe below)
  • Dumplings quantity of your choice.  Allow for at least 4-5 dumplings per person (recipe below)
  • 1-2 spring onions chopped
  • Sesame seeds or glazed bonito topping to sprinkle (recipe available soon!)

To assemble the dish:

  1. Boil the soba noodles in a large pan of boiling slightly salted water, when done, drain and keep to the side.
  2. In the same water add as many dumplings as you require.  Cook on a rolling boil for 4-5 mins.  They are done when they float to the surface  Drain and keep to the side.
  3. In the meantime, heat a large pan to make the sauce, when done remove sauce into a bowl and put pan back on heat without washing.
  4. Add a tbsp of oil to the pan and turn the heat up high.
  5. When hot add the vegetables (the vegetables I listed are what I had available, you can use whatever you like) one at a time stirring well between each addition starting with the carrots, then the mushrooms, the peppers, the cabbage and finally the broccoli florets.
  6. Stir in a tbsp of oyster sauce and cover with a lid for a few minutes to steam while on medium high heat.  You want the veg to still have a bite test to see when the broccoli turns greener and a little tender.
  7. Remove the lid and add the sauce.
  8. Stir well and then add the noodles and stir again.  Make sure the heat is off.
  9. Finally sprinkle the dish with the chopped spring onions, place the dumplings on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds or if you have make the bonito topping use that and enjoy!

Pork & Coriander Jiaozi  Style Dumplings  

Makes 25-30

You can make these in advance and cook them straight from the freezer so I will often double this batch just to have extra in the freezer.  They also make a quick, (4-5 minute boil in water then pan fry the flat side of the dumpling for a couple of minutes to golden) delicious pot-sticker to serve  impromptu guests.  Serve with a dipping sauce in the ratio of 2:1 soy sauce and regular rice vinegar or black vinegar,  a dash of sesame oil and optional chili oil.

The Dough:

Ingredients

You can either use ready made dumpling or wonton skin from the Asian supermarket or make your own which is worth the effort if you have the time.

  • 180g plain strong white flour (and extra for dusting)
  • Approx 75ml hot water  (add a little at a time)

Combine the water and the flour until you get a fairly firm dough and knead until smooth.  Set aside for 1/2hr to rest before making the skins by rolling out the dough to the thickness of a 10p coin/quarter (a couple of mm) and using a cookie cutter- cut out rounds.  Thin out the edges of each round slightly with a rolling pin, leaving the centre thicker, Stack the rounds with a dusting of flour between each layer to ensure they don’t stick together.  Cover with some cling film/saran wrap while you make the filling.

The Filling:

Ingredients

  • 85g good quality lean pork mince  (you can substitute with minced chicken thigh or for a vegetarian version I will be adding a recipe soon)
  • 1 cup coriander chopped finely (stems included)
  • 1-2 spring onions chopped finely (depending on the size)
  • 1 tbps grated  ginger
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • Light soy sauce  to taste (at least 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp Shao Xing wine  (or dry sherry)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 4-5 water chestnuts chopped finely (optional for added texture)

Method

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl ready to fill the dumpling skins.  Can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

Filling the Skins:

Take a good teaspoon of the filling and put it in the centre of one half of a dumpling skin.  Fold the other half over to create a half moon shape squeezing out the air from the filling .  If you find though edges aren’t sticking well, you can moisten one edge very lightly before joining to the half moon shape.  Secure all edges by ensuring there are no air pockets and if you like, gather the edges into little pleats thinning the edges slightly as you go around to ensure the edges are not too thick.  Place wrappers on a lightly floured plate and refrigerate until needed.

Oyster & Chili Garlic-Ginger Sauce

This sauce is very versatile.  It can be made thicker or thinner depending on what you are using it for.  It is great with bok choy, dau miu (snow pea sprouts..my favourite!), choi sum, morning glory or any other vegetables you like as well as a quick sauce for meat, poultry or fish.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil with a high smoke point
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 4-5 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1-2 long thin green chilis chopped finely (to taste)
  • 3-4 tbs good quality oyster sauce (It is possible to get a good quality vegetarian versions of this too)
  • 1 tbsp Mirin
  • 2 tbsp Shao Xing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1- 1 & 1/2 tbsp of corn flour depending on the thickness you prefer.  Start with one and add more if you need.
  • 1 cup of water  (adjust according to preference)
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce or to taste
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Method

  1. Put the water in a jug, mix in the cornflour until smooth and keep to the side ready to use.
  2. On high heat, heat a large wok type pan with the oil.
  3. Add the ginger, garlic and chills and fry for a minute or so.
  4. Next add the Shao Xing wine then the Mirin and stir to evaporate some of the alcohol while it boils.
  5. Next add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and bring to a boil.
  6. Lower the heat and add the cornflour and water.
  7. Cook this on a medium high heat until the sauce has thickened. It should be the consistency of pouring yoghurt not too thin and not to thick so as to coat the noodles and vegetables well.
  8. Taste for salt and adjust with soy sauce accordingly.
  9. If you require the sauce a little thicker or thinner add some more cornflour mixed with some water and bring to the boil to thicken or thin out with some water.
  10. Sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed.


Friendship & The Humble Chicken

I have been lost from here for some time.  However, I can assure you I have been cooking lots and have much to share about my experimentation and I will in the coming weeks.

This week I have been feeling reminiscent of good times especially the other night when I prepared this.

I remember the first time I made a version of this.  I had just spent a day at the Southbank in London with my best friend where we had an argument.  It was about something stupid, but we were both in a bad mood when we came back home which wasn’t helpful because earlier in the day we had asked some friends to come over later that evening for an  impromptu dinner.  I had planned to cook something;  there were some racks of lamb that I had marinated the night before in some spices,  a chicken and some vegetables…a roast of sorts was on the cards.

When we walked in I got straight into the kitchen so that I could just concentrate on the cooking of the meal rather than continue with our argument while my friend went to the lounge to tidy up.  It was surprising how quickly things fell into place with virtually no planning.  I am not the kind of cook that likes to rush things and I love to cook spontaneously with whatever is available to feed my love of experimentation.   My favourite time is to cook with people in the kitchen: cooking, talking, drinking at a slow pace so as to enjoy the whole process.  However, saying that,  I can certainly also be efficient when needs be and that day I was efficient beyond words!

I spotted the couscous in the cupboard and immediately started preparing a stuffing with whatever I could find- handfuls of fresh mint and parsley, dried apricots, paprika, roasted cumin, glugs of olive oil, lemon juice, sumac and of course a good pinch of chilli flakes.  I didn’t de-skin the chicken, but I made pockets under the skin and filled them with the marinade ensuring that I slathered the rest over the chicken before stuffing it to the brim with the aromatic couscous jewelled with nuggets of orange sweetness.  Simultaneously,I had put some potatoes to boil and before putting them around the chicken I generously sprinkled them with some of that deep smoky sweet roasted cumin and some glugs of olive oil.  Everything was in the oven within 15 mins with just the veggies and lamb chops to cook when our friends arrived

I was glad that I had that time to clear my mind.  Sometimes it’s necessary to remove yourself from the situation and be alone to reflect.  When my friend came back into the kitchen after tidying up, she took out a  bottle of champagne from the fridge and we had a glass.   We didn’t say much, but we both knew things would be ok.  We have both realised however similar we are, that we also have some strong differences.   Similarities such as stubbornness and the need to have our own way can cause some clashes in our friendship, but it is highly unlikely that there is anything that could ever break our friendship because of the end of it all, life would not be the same without her in

As George Washington said … “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

The meal went down a storm, much laughter and good times were had by all.

And not to forget a recipe to remember because you see, just a chicken soup is good for the soul and the body, roast chicken does wonders for friendships.

My Seductively, Smoky & Sweet Paprika Glazed Chicken Stuffed With An Aromatic Couscous Jewelled with Feta & Dried Fruit 

I have changed the original recipe slightly with the addition of Feta, some pearl barley and sultanas. I love the saltiness of Feta that contrasts beautifully with the sultanas (which I used because I was out of apricots and I think I prefer.) The pearl barley adds a delicious nuttiness and variation in texture.   

The Couscous Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 120g barley couscous
  • 50g pearl barley (optional-I like the slight bite this has to contrast with the couscous)
  • 150g feta chopped into small cubed or crumbled in to small pieces
  • handful of chopped mint roughly chopped
  • handful of chopped flatleaf parsley roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp roasted ground cumin (pan roasting the seeds before grinding yourself transforms this aromatic spice into a deep seductively smoky sweeter version than if you don’t- totally worth the extra step. It also adds to the richness of the colour.
  • 2-3 tsp sumac (more or less to your taste and depending on the strength. If you can’t find this add a few more squeezes of lemon and 1/2 tsp more paprika)  The reasons I use this instead of just lemon are twofold: It adds the sourness that lemon provides, but also an earthiness. Secondly, the speckles of sumac stain wherever they lie with a ting of rich burgundy that looks beautiful.
  • 50g sultanas or chopped apricots or chopped dates
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1.  Boil the peal barley in some salted  water until done.  If you omit this, you will still have sufficient stuffing without or for a large chicken soak a little extra couscous (25g).
  2. Place the barley couscous in a bowl, pour over 150 mls of boiling water and cover with a plate for 4-5 mins (or per the instructions on the pack).  If you cannot find barley couscous, the regular wheat kind is absolutely fine. You could also experiment and try out Israeli jumbo couscous too.
  3. Fork through the couscous add the olive oil and cooked pearl barley and mix well.
  4. Now add all the spices- the chili flakes, paprika, ground roasted cumin, sumac and some salt and pepper.  When adding the salt, bear in mind the saltiness of the feta you are using.
  5. Next add the parsley, mint, sultanas, and feta; stir to combine.
  6. Finally, sprinkle with the juice of half a lemon and taste- check the salt and balance of sour from the sumac and or lemon.  Adjust according to your taste.
  7. Set aside while you prepare the chicken.
De-skinning Of The Chicken
When I do a traditional roast chicken, I will remove some excess fat, but I will leave the skin in tact because an English roast would not be the same without!  However, in the Indian culture the skin is never left on on when cooking chicken. The reason for this is more on the lines of better flavour penetration than for care of health!  The skin, although tasty when crisp and useful to prevent drying out when being fried or roasted, it doesn’t allow for the aromatics to really get into the flesh.
 There is rarely a time that I will not add garlic to a roast chicken; even when preparing a traditional roast.  On these occasions when I want the skin in tact, I will lift the skin on the breasts with the back end of a spoon in order not to pierce the skin and then leave my fingers to gently loosen the skin from the flesh to provide a pocket to put my marinade of choice inside to ensure the flavours get into the flesh.  The skin on the rest of the bird is left as it is because I will stab cuts in the joints to allow for flavour penetration.
Another reason why the skin is discarded is that Indians don’t see the flavour of chicken coming from it’s fat or skin as is the case in a lot of other cuisines.  For them, the flavour comes from the bone hence why the majority of South Asian meat and poultry dishes are cooked on the bone.  Although some of the time Indian meat and poultry dishes can be rich due to the addition of cream and or butter, the removal of the chicken fat and skin and excess animal fat on meat gives Indian dishes a much “cleaner” flavour and allows for the aromatics to shine through.  A couple of exceptions to this rule are when I cook duck or goose.  Almost never without the skin or fat.  That would be sacrilege!
Unless I want the skin for a purpose I de-skin chicken- the whole and pieces.  It’s very easy to do.  All you need is some strong kitchen paper to grip onto the skin, a knife, scissors and a little strength!
The breasts and legs are pretty easy..the wings and the underside can be a little tough sometimes and so if that the case, get a knife and or scissors to help you with the underpart and leave the bits of the wings you can’t get.  Of course if you are buying your bird from a butcher, they will do this for you and if you happen to go to an Indian or Pakistani butcher the chicken will be skinless anyway!
All my Indian, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern dishes with chicken are done this way for the flavours to really get into the flesh; not to mention it’s healthier.  As long as you cook the bird at the right temperature (I recommend between 160-170C depending on your oven) and baste once or twice you will not suffer from a dry bird.
The Marinade For The Chicken
Ingredients
  • 2-3 tbs of olive oil
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp roasted ground cumin
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed to a paste
  • the juice of half a lemon
Method
  1. Preheat a fan oven to 160-170C
  2. Place the de-skinned  chicken onto a baking tray covered with foil (I purely put the foil down for ease of cleaning).
  3. Take a knife and make some stab cuts into the thick part of the thigh area and also around the underside of the wing area.  Avoid the breast meat.
  4. Now take some pepper and about 1 1/2 tsp (or to your taste) of your salt of choice- try a good flaky sea salt like Maldon and rub all over the chicken massaging it into the crevices.
  5. Next take the marinade for the chicken and slather that all over the chicken getting into all the nooks and crannys including the opening of the cavity.
  6. With your hands hold the chicken with a firm grip (it may help to hold it upright with the cavity pointing upwards) and pack the stuffing  tightly into the cavity a spoon at a time.  Don’t forget you can get some in from the neck end too.. you’ll be surprise and grateful about how much you can pack in because the stuffing is a sponge for all the deliciously savoury chicken juices while its cooking!  Depending on the size of your chicken- you may have some left over.  I managed to get all the stuffing into a medium/large 2.5kg chicken. If you have any stuffing left over (provided you haven’t contaminated it with raw chicken-y hands or utensils you can keep it to serve with the chicken when it’s done- If I have a smaller chicken, I keep about a cup of stuffing on the side and add it if needed- that way there is no risk of contamination!
  7. Finally put the chicken in the oven for about 1-1/1/2 hrs depending on the size of your chicken and your oven.  This 2.5 kg bird took about 1 hr 15 mins.
  8. Baste it once or twice during cooking by tilting the tray slightly and spoon over the juices.
  9. It’s done when you poke a knife into the thickest part of the thigh and the thick part underneath where the wing joint is and the juices run clear.
In the spring and summer enjoy this with a mixed green leaf and herb salad lightly dressed with a simple seasoned olive oil, lemon and sumac (if you have it) dressing.
In the autumn and winter this dish is perfect with a selection of roasted root vegetables drizzled in some olive oil, seasoned with a light sprinkling of ground roasted cumin, chilli flakes and flaked sea salt to taste.  When they come out of the oven bring them to life with a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice.

A (small) change will do you good & My Sweet Potato Adventures with an Indian twist

Just as many of you out there, each year, as the new year draws closer I make my one of my reoccurring resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle. Full to the brim with enthusiasm and motivation,  we decide it is the optimum time to go on a “diet”, buy a gym membership, abstain from alcohol etc.  Once we pass the January Blues (January 23rd was supposedly the most depressing date this year) all this conscientious, extreme change manages to last until about mid February at the very best.

The whole point of a resolution is to follow through with something and make sure that you stick at it for the long run, right?  Very few people can adhere to strict rules and restrictions for long periods of time, and I am certainly not one of those people!  However, I do have a tendency to be passionate and obsess over anything new I get into- be it a hobby, a diet, cooking a kind of cuisine, researching a particular interest etc.  Unfortunately, I can lose interest just as easily if I get bored, or feel restricted.  What can I say?  I’m a stubborn bull and I like to do what I want to do. :) This year I decided to break the pattern.

As the new year approached, there were to be no more resolutions for me to obsess over for 2 months before I crashed and burned.  I made a decision to introduce small changes in my life that I would be happy to make, but more importantly, be able to sustain all year with the view to carrying them on indefinitely.  It meant the drastic instant results that I would usually aim for and sometimes achieve would not be happening, but I am content with this because I think the 80:20 rule fits me better than anything before:  being mindful and conscientious about what I am doing 80% of the time with that 20% of letting go bringing the balance I need.  No restrictions- just positive adjustments.  For example,  exercising regularly without the excuse of needing to go to the gym and in the kitchen, I am far more aware of not being overly excessive when it comes to fat, sugar and salt for everyday cooking.  It’s interesting to experiment and see if recipes work well with less or with interesting natural substitutes without compromising on the taste.  If not, not to worry because although with less frequency now, I will still enjoy these things and I will certainly not become fanatically against any of the things that I enjoy that may be deemed less healthy; we all know there are some things that need sugary, salty, buttery goodness! An example of this being, Kougin Amann, which I will be dedicating an entire day to make my own version in the near future!

It’s now March and I have to say that I have not felt this positive or energetic in a long time.  I feel a sense of freedom; I feel healthier and I am especially enjoying exploring and experimenting for the 80%.  The most important thing I have learnt is balance and this is slowly seeping into every aspect of my life.

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Recently, I have had quite a craving for sweet potato and I would usually just roast them or make a mash as I would regular potatoes, but the other day I decided to try them out with some Indian flavours. After rummaging in the fridge, I pulled out a fresh bag of kale and some root ginger.  I don’t know why Gobi Aloo Sabzi (A spiced dry curry of cauliflower and potato)  came to mind.  I think it was the ginger.  I love ginger in Gobi Aloo and there is a kind of sweetness that I can relate to the Aloo when then are cooked with the Gobi and ginger that I thought would work well with the sweet potato.  I thought the kale’s earthy tang would balance the sweetness of the potato just as the stalks of the cauliflower in Gobi Aloo do.  I cooked it more or less the same way I would Gobi Aloo and the result was a resounding success! The sweet potato and kale worked and balanced together beautifully with the ginger and spices.  The bonus of this dish is that it takes no longer than 15-20 mins to prepare and have ready to serve on the table.  I will certainly be cooking this colourful, nutritious and utterly more-ish version of sweet potatoes for years to come!

 Spiced Sweet Potato & Kale-  Shakarkand & Kale Subzi

This makes a good size dish that can serve up to 8 people if it is being accompanied by other dishes.  It can also be eaten alone or with rice and/or chapatti.  It’s delicious accompanied with plain yoghurt. And don’t worry about the left overs! This keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 600g  yellow sweet potato (about 1 large or 2 small) cubed into 1-2cm cubes If you can’t find yellow, you can use white.
  • 1 tennis ball onion finely chopped
  • 1 bag of curly spring kale  (approx 180g) cavolo nero would also work well or other similar leaves
  • 25g ginger  peeled and grated
  • 1 green chili chopped finely
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbs dried fenugreek leaves ( Kasuri Methi) Avaliable in all Indian grocery stores.  If you can’t find it, you can leave it out as it is not essential
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed powder
  • 1/4 red chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp)
  • A few sprigs of coriander (cilantro) leaves chopped finely to garnish (optional)
  • Your choice of oil to cook with

Method

  1. Prepare all the ingredients as described above.
  2. Heat a wide based pan on medium high heat and add the cumin seeds to the dry pan.  Toss them once or twice to insure they don’t burn.  Once you start to smell the aroma from them add 3-4 tbsp of oil and let the seeds flutter.
  3. Now add the onions and green chilli and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are slightly transparent.
  4. Add the ginger and stir for 10-20 seconds
  5. Add the spices- turmeric, red chilli,coriander and the salt and cook for about 1 min or so until you smell the rawness of the turmeric start to subside.  It will seem like the spices are sticking to the base of the pan if it is not non-stick, but don’t worry.  You don’t need to add more oil.  Just continue to stir.
  6. Now add the fenugreek leaves and stir for 10-20 seconds.
  7. Add the cubed sweet potato and stir to ensure they are coated well.
  8. Finally add the kale a handful or 2 at a time and thoroughly stir.
  9. When you have incorporated all the Kale, as you stir, bring the pan to a “boil” (put the pan on full heat for a minute) before putting a lid on it and turning the heat right down to a temperature that would be a very gentle simmer.  I say simmer, but there is no liquid in the dish and so I have given that as a reference for what temperature to use.
  10. Cook for about 10-15 mins depending on how large the pieces of sweet potato are.  The smaller they are, the quicker it will be.  Take off the lid half way and give it a stir.  The dish is cooked when the sweet potatoes are cooked.  Make sure you don’t over cook them to a mush, they are nicer when they still hold their shape.

Garnish and serve.

Bon  Appetit!

Midnight baking for relaxation….oh how I have missed you! And my first cookbook review.

Today, for the first time in ages I got to do some baking for the heck of it that was not work related!  I’ve missed midnight baking.

I had a jar of apple sauce left in the fridge from about a month ago that  I made from a glut of apples I bought with the intention to make a few apple crumbles for some friends.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen due to a sudden influx of work and then my trip to Paris, so I decided to save the apples for a rainy day.

A few months ago I was on one of my Amazon shopping sprees and I bought a bunch of cookbooks.  I seem to go through this phase about twice a year- buying a dozen cook books at a time like they’re going out of fashion.  It’s not a good thing because I end up buying some books just for the sake of it…such as I did with the Babycakes cookbook By Erin McKennathe infamous New York Vegan (sometimes Gluten Free and Sugar Free) baker. I read the reviews and it seemed like it would be a hit and miss book as it was reported in reviews that a lot of the recipes were nothing like the baked goods that she said she had given the recipes for in the book.  I haven’t actually been to her bakery and so I haven’t got anything to compare it to, but out of principle I probably should have avoided the book because it was misleading.  I didn’t though because the version I was buying was the UK one with some changes and I was curious to see what the conversions and substitutions would be like.  I also wasn’t so bothered that the recipes weren’t the same as her bakery ones because I rarely follow recipes to the tee anyway and I have enough knowledge to know what will work and what won’t.  Plus taking a skeleton and making it your own is what makes kitchen experimentation fun!

Due to the nature of my business and having to be able to accommodate different dietary requirements, gluten free/vegan /sugar free diets in particular, I am always keen to read cook books in these areas and Erin’s book is definitely a good starting point.  Having now read Erin’s first book – only the recipes and avoiding anything unrelated,   (I wasn’t feeling all the celebrity mumbo jumbo endorsements and arse kissing every other page.) and having tried some of the recipes, I have mixed feelings about this book.

I think the substitutions when it comes to gluten free flour works well for the most part, however you can now buy a range of Bob’s Red Mill products including the All Purpose Gluten Free Flour in Waitrose which is what Erin uses in her North American version.  Saying that, Doves Plain Gluten Free Flour  is much better value and in my opinion better tasting.

The icing that she is famous for is given to her readers in the form of a HORRIBLE recipe.  It’s not good by any standards and  I don’t understand why she would bother putting such a poorly written, unstable recipe in a book with her name on it.  She may as well have omitted it and told her readers to take stabs in the dark while experimenting when trying to recreate hers.  I did have a go, but I substituted and changed a lot of the quantities that she had written because I could see that the quantities given would never work as she had pictured they would.  I don’t think I have come up with something I would yet be happy to publish…but when I do, I will be sure to share. :)

Apart from the icing, I find a lot of the recipes to be fillers and not particularly exciting. Also to my taste, and I guess most of Europe, the recipes are far too fatty and unnecessarily sickly sweet which is surprising as the ethos behind this book seems to focus of tasty, but somewhat healthy. I don’t think the fact that you use coconut oil which is deemed a healthy fat means that you should douse the product with it unnecessarily.  I found a few recipes, particularly the Chocolate Chip Cookies I made tonight, that even though I reduced the fat by 50ml, I still found the end product verging on greasy. It could be that the difference in flours wasn’t tested properly and the way that the fat is absorbed is different making it seem more greasy?  I guess it’s all about trial and error…something that seems to be a trend with this book.

I think Erin’s bakery concept is fab, and I think that her books are a lifeline to those that rely on the kinds of products she makes due to their diets, but I do get a feeling that she’s not the sharing kind and her main motivation is to make money from books rather than provide a quality product with stable recipes for those that really need it. Her readers need to work hard to make these recipes work.  I am happy to adapt her recipes to suit me and I will be interested to have a browse through her new book, but I probably won’t buy it….even on one of my Amazon shopping sprees!

Vegan & Gluten Free Chocolate Chip & Coconut Cookies – adapted from Babycakes by Erin McKenna

Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.  You will have enough mixture for 2 batches- about 40 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 175ml melted virgin coconut oil
  • 8-10 tbsp homemade apple sauce made with agave syrup and of cinnamon or unsweetend shop bought, but add 1/2- 3/4 tsp  cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 200g Doves gluten free plain flour
  • 75g rice flour
  • 50g unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 30g ground flax/linseeds
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp xantham gum
  • 150g dark chocolate chips

Method

  1. In a bowl mix the melted oil with the apple sauce, vanilla, sugar and salt.
  2. In another bowl whisk the flours, coconut, ground flax, bicarb of soda and xantham gum.
  3. Mix the wet mixture into the dry mixture until you get a grainy dough that’s just mixed.
  4. Now fold in the chocolate chips until distributed evenly.  Do not over mix.
  5. Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2 teaspoons make small balls of the mixture and place on the baking trays about 2-3cm apart, flattening each ball to help it spread.
  6. Bake in the oven for 15 mins, turning the trays halfway.
  7. leave the cookies on the tray to firm up for 10 mins and then remove to cool the trays and repeat process for the second batch.
  8. Cookies are done when they are firm to touch and lightly golden.  As they cool they will get a crisp edge, but will remain soft in the centre.

Erin originally sandwiches these cookies with her famous vanilla icing which is dairy free, but as her recipe was not worth using for this I left these plain.  If you do want to sandwich them and don’t mind dairy, some suggestions include, home made or shop bought Nutella and coconut buttercream, for dairy free- chocolate ganache made with coconut cream would be delicious and of course ice cream sandwich cookies would be fab…the list is endless!

My Ode to Malapua – Pancakes reminiscent of my childhood

Last week was super hectic.  As well as cake orders and lots of travelling, I was still determined to experiment in the kitchen!

The week before last I was reminded that Pancake Day was on it’s way and so I got to thinking about all my favourite kinds of pancake combinations, both sweet and savoury.  I have to say, the older I get the more I appreciate and sometimes prefer the savoury kind.  Nothing beats a weekend brunch of freshly made crepes filled with Emmental, some good quality smoked ham and a pinch of black pepper. YUM.

Of course, this led me to think about what I should make this year and it made sense for my mind to wander towards my heritage and remember that pancakes appear in Indian cuisine in a number of forms.  The most commonly known is the thin, crisp, South Indian fermented rice and lentil pancake- the Dosa.  This in itself has many many variations from Plain Dosa which is unfilled and eaten with a soupy spicy lentil and vegetable sambar and coconut chutney, Masala Dosa where the dosa is filled with an aromatic spicy potato and onion filling and served the same way as the plain, Paper Dosa, where the Dosa is made larger, but paper thin, Ragi Dosa where the batter is made with millet flour, Rava Dosa– which is my favourite, where the dosa is made much crisper even crunchy because rather than rice and lentils, the batter is made from semolina.  The Rava dosa also has variations such as Onion Rava (my all time favourite) where onions are added to the batter.  For a thicker pancake there is also Uttapam where the pancake is cooked with the filling in a similar batter to the dosa, resulting in a thicker, softer pancake that also is accompanied by sambar and coconut chutney.  Of course we must not forget the sweet variation of the Dosa- the Vella Dosa, made with Jaggery (unrefined cane sugar).  The choice is endless!

Masala Onion Rava Dosa served with coconut chutney and sambar  @ Sagar.  My favourite South Indian Restaurant in  Defence Colony, New Delhi, India.  

As a child, I had a particularly sweet tooth and thoughts of the Vella Dosa triggered memories of something similar that I would love to eat when I visited my Grandparents in Kenya.  Spending almost all my summers in  Kenya as a child,  it was my second home.  The lifestyle was very different to my life in England, well more for the people around me.  My Grandmother didn’t go to work everyday like my mother did, instead she was involved in a lot of social activities.   Whether it was to go to the Arya Samaj (the temple), coffee mornings or kitty parties, my daily routine would involve attending these gatherings with my Grandmother.  Food was an important part of the culture there.  Everything was homemade, from chutneys and acchars (spicy pickles), to fresh handmade vermicelli and spicy savoury snack like Chevda.  The hot weather was similar to India and so perfect for maturing or drying these kinds of items. Of course, it was much easier because there were kitchen staff to help with the process, especially with the preparation which was somewhat cumbersome.  Nevertheless, everything made was a time consuming labour of love which is why I think it all tasted so good.

My Grandmother’s generation were brilliant cooks.  Being in Kenya and having limited access to some Indian spices and ingredients, they had to be resourceful and creative.  This made the kitchen one of the most exciting places to be as there was always experimentation going on and it was decidedly different to the Indian food my Grandmother would make when she was in England; in fact to my palate it was tastier.  The masala fish and chicken she would make is like not other I have tasted anywhere.   I remember the aromas that would waft though to the lounge as my Grandmother concocted her dishes.  What was also interesting was how there was such a sense of community between the women.  They would share recipes and tips, cook together and of course share the delicious produce between each other.  My family is originally of Hindu Punjabi origin, but when my grandparents moved to East Africa that there was such a small community of Indian people and so there was a great camaraderie between the different Indian communities.   I remember particularly a lot of Gujarati and Sikh friends that my grandparents had.  The influence of the individual cultures between the  friends as well as the influence of the East African ingredients trickled all the way through to the food they all prepared with so much love.  I am so grateful that I have been able to experience and be influenced by all these different flavours.   I think this is what planted the seed for me to be the hedonistic cook that I am today…always searching to experience new flavours.

If there was one thing my grandmother makes, that to this day, I can never get enough of, it’s  her coconut barfi.  I kid you not, it is to die for. I don’t know it’s it’s the Kenyan coconuts or just her hand, (I suspect a combination of both) but one day I need to dedicate an entire post to the greatness of her coconut barfi.

My thoughts on pancakes made me remember one of my all-time favourite desserts.  Malapua.  I must have been about 7 or 8 the first time I had this.  It was in Kenya at a lunch after visiting the temple and it was being served a prashad (a sweet offering).   I remember vividly the shimmering, sugary sweetness of the fried saucers like pancakes ready to be smothered in the comforting creaminess of the accompanying kheer (rice pudding).

Malapua is in-between a dumpling/doughnut and a pancake.  There are no eggs in the batter and is spiced with fennel seeds and sometimes cardamom.  It’s then fried into small saucer like discs and then submerged into a thick sugar syrup.  Once removed it develops a glistening sugary crust and is served warm.  It can be eaten alone, but whenever I have eaten or made it, it has been served with a rich and creamy kheer that may be jewelled with pistachios and golden sultanas.  Utter heaven.  Calorific, but oh so worth it!

It is the flavours of the Malapua that I love so much and I could not think of a better kind of Pancake to concoct for Pancake day!

Caramelised Fennel & Cardamom Pancakes with a Spiced Jaggery Caramel: My Malapua inspired pancakes

8-12 pancakes depending on the size

Ingredients

  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp semolina
  • 2 tbsp rice flour (optional- you can substitute for semolina)
  • 3/4 tsp of ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 3/4 cup of milk-adjust to get the right texture
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp of butter melted
  • Butter to fry the pancakes
  • Pistachios sliced to garnish

Method

  1. Blend all the ingredients with a hand held blender or a whisk until smooth.  Add the liquid slowly to avoid lumps in the batter. You want a pourable consistency like thick double/heavy cream.
  2. Leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat and melt some butter- do not let it burn.  Put a ladle of mixture in and swirl pan to spread.
  4. When bubbles appear and the underside looks golden, turn the pancake.
  5. The reason I have sugar in the mix is to get the pancake to caramelise.  I cook the pancake until a crispy edge is achieved around the outside of the pancake.  Cook according to your preference.
  6. Garnish with sliced pistachios and serve with the Spiced Jaggery Caramel sauce, kheer or with rice pudding. Of course they are also delicious on their own too!

Spiced Jaggery Caramel Sauce

This caramel sauce is delicious with so many things- experiment with sweet and savoury!  It has a distinct depth of a smoky caramel like flavour which is slightly salty and not sickly sweet due to the fact that it unrefined.  Jaggery is my preferred choice over refined sugar to bring balance of taste to a dish.  You can find jaggery in all Indian supermarkets and in some national ones throughout the UK.  It is available in hard solid blocks or softer chunks.  It also varies in colour.  My preference is to buy jaggery (sometimes called goor ) with a darker colour in a rectangular block that is not to hard to cut or the softer chunks, but any kind will work. (Natco sell one that is widely available)

Ingredients

25g butter
75g Jaggery plus a tbsp water
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
4 tbsp cream (Adjust to the thickness you want)

Method

  1. Melt the jaggery over heat with the tbsp of water and bring to the boil and continue to boil for a minute or so.
  2. Add the cream and then the butter and spices and continue to boil until it thickens to a thick pourable consistency.
  3. This makes enough for the pancakes above, but feel free to double or triple the recipe to keep some in the fridge.  It keeps well for 2 weeks.
  4. Serve hot over the Malapua inspired pancakes, icecream, fruit, roast pork, whatever you desire!

The one where cake-work hampered any culinary experimentation this weekend.

Damn those chocolate roses taking forever to make!  I have made them hundreds of times before, and out of various ingredients.  This time I made my own Belgian chocolate plastique, the method being pretty easy, but the quantity not so much!  I have a lot of roses to make though!  I’m guessing I will be done by Wednesday.

Of course, this completely impeded the plans I had made to finally attempt my own version of Kouign Amann.  This was one pastry that, although I had read about, did not taste until my most recent trip to Paris.  An exquisite pastry that originally hails from Brittany in France, it’s perfectly flaky, unctuously chewy, glistening with caramelised sweetness and filled with salted buttery goodness.

I have no choice but to attempt to recreate it and share it’s magic with my friends and family.

Alas, it will have to wait until next week at least as I know it will be a labour of love, but rest assured I will be back with my Kouign Amann adventures soon!

Pick your own Kouignettes @ Georges Larnicol in Paris

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In the meantime, as I am on a roses break because my palms need a rest,  I thought I’d use my fingers instead and tell you a little more about another of my passions.

I am pretty much inseparable from the  kitchen.  I feel comfort when there is one in the vicinity. It’s my place of serenity, creativity, joy, pleasure, gathering; a symbol of togetherness and love….. It’s the Holy evoke-r of fond memories and creations (the good and the ones that need some tender love and attention to be made better!)  Oh and the place I almost always take over. (I’m sure my family and friends will vouch for that!)

Just as much as I am inseparable from the kitchen, in recent years I have gained a new appendage.  It’s pretty big…and totally sexy to me.

My mind is not even close to being as dirty as yours.

Now is a good time to be removing your mind from the gutter.   I am talking about my camera, of course.

Although, throughout my life,  I have always been involved in something artistic in one way or the other- from ceramics, painting, screen printing to sugar art, I didn’t consider venturing into photography until my early 20’s.  I now know how awful this is to say, but I never really acknowledged or understood it to be a form of expression with much value.  For me, doing something practical such a picking up a pencil to sketch to create a picture, constructing a sculpture from clay, structuring a dish that activates your senses are all things that I deem to be artistic/creative/exciting and ways to express how I feel.

I’d never been exposed to photography at school, but at university, there was a friend I lived with on a photography course and she would talk about her work and always have her camera with her-  ready to capture a moment.  I remember thinking, sure it’s great; you learn the technical skills you need to use a camera manually, and use a dark room and of course you must have a good eye to be able to take well composed photos, but I never understood the way you could make something yours.   The image that you’re taking of that woman, what does it say about you?  I could understand how a painter made a portrait their own with their emotions being revealed through their brush strokes, but how did a photographer do with with the photograph portrait of a person? This was at a time when the girl I was living with would only use film as digital, although it had been around for quite a while, it was not favoured by students (if I remember correctly).  I had a digital camera, in fact I still have that one in a drawer somewhere.  It’s travelled with me to too many places for me to give it up.  I’m sentimental like that.

My love for photography was born the first summer I spent in Madrid.  I had decided to take a year out of university and go and learn Spanish.  With the summer semester ending, I made this decision on the spur of the moment and within a couple of weeks I was in Madrid.    During my first week there I met some wonderful people in my school from all over the world- teachers and students.  It was a blast.  Not very many people were there for as long as I was, so there was always an influx of new people coming into the school which was great.  I made a number of close friends, but there was one in particular.  A girl from New Jersey.  We clicked quickly and ended up spending most of our free time together.

Christine had a film SLR with her, a Nikon I think, and a keen interest in photography.  I found her camera to be cumbersome and big, and didn’t understand why she wanted to take that around with her over taking a compact one like mine as we wandered the streets.   Over the weeks she showed me why and that’s when I started to understand and this is when my love affair with photography began.

We were planning to visit galleries and museums because we both had an interest in art.  She told me about this event that was happening over the whole city- PhotoEspana and said that we should go.  We looked it up and found that there were exhibitions all over the city in galleries, museums, hotels, metro stations- you name it.  Every district had some photography exhibition relating to that year’s PhotoEspana theme.  The theme that year was Femininos.  You guessed it- it was all about women. :)

But in every context.  It was amazing and insightful.  I learnt more about photography, photographers, women, men, pain, suffering, love, beauty, emotion and so much more I cannot describe , in the 6 week run of the exhibition that I could have ever imagined I would learn in such a short space of time.  It was beautifully done.  I have been back a couple of years after that in the summer to go to attend it as it happens every year, but that year has remained my favourite.

From then, it pretty much became a part of my life.  I started to explore…I dug out my father’s old SLR and became trigger happy as I experimented with different styles.  My favourite has ended up being candid street photography. I love the story you can tell with a single image. * The picture at the top is one I caught during the Royal wedding in London last year.  The aftermath @ Buckingham Palace where a woman who had enjoyed all the celebrations decided to face all the television studios in hope that they would give some coverage of her missing dog.  She was brilliant!*

At present I use my photography skills for work sometimes, but in the way the kitchen brings me a sense of peace and serenity, my camera makes me feel the same way.  When I travel or have spare time, I love wandering streets as invisibly as possible, and finding, capturing and getting lost in moments of other people’s stories.

For days when you need vibrant colours, sun drenched flavours and invigorating aromas from the Med to remind you that summer is not so far away..

I needed this yesterday, oh so much.  The weather has been rather indifferent this last week.  I dislike indifference greatly.  Sometimes I wish the sky would just cry properly.  Not in the pissy, drizzly, grizzly way that it does; sulking like it’s not sure if it wants to be upset or not.   I wish it would have more of a tantrum- you know like the sky does in India.  See those Indian skies know how to monsoon.  They know all about creating dramatic effect for entertainment (and comfort).   I’d rather be battling that, than some lame arse drizzle.

Of course in the ideal scenario,  I would rather be in scorching heat on the French or Italian Riviera (whichever makes for a better dream for you), with the salty, warm, fragrant,  Mediterranean breeze caressing and frizzing my hair as I lounge with my nearest and dearest in my Tuscan veranda (this dream is all about Tuscany,obviously) sipping a delicious Tuscan red as the scent of the roasting vegetables wafts over from my wood burning oven that’s right there,  on my left………

One day my dream will come true, I am sure of this. :)

Back to reality! Lest I open a bottle of Aqua di Parma Colonia to keep me there a little longer……

So yesterday, I popped into Waitrose on my way home and as I approached  the veg section (all I had gone in for was some broccoli) the lovely veg man was putting out some beautiful asparagus and these gloriously shiny, rotund bell peppers.  Obviously, all I could think was “Get me some courgettes and that’s dinner done, baby!” …Well something like that.

I said bye bye to the broccoli and filled my basket with a pot of basil (I know, slap on the wrist for me for not taking care of my not so hardy herbs!), some rocket, those shiny peppers in all colours, some asparagus and some abnormally large if they were described as phallic courgettes.  I made a quick dash to the fish counter, picked up some salmon and made my way home ready to bring me some summer.

So the recipe- because it was actually something I realised I should make way more often to lift my mood….

Also, I recommend this as your soundtrack for cooking this meal —>http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bPAaLAPvPRA

Pan fried Lemon & Garlic Salmon topped with  Basil & Wild Rocket Pistou and served with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables & Charred Asparagus

Serves 4

The order to cook and prepare this in if you are cooking on the day: Marinate fish, prepare veg, cook veg, prepare pistou, cook fish, cook asparagus and serve.

For the basil and wild rocket pistou:

I enjoy my fish pies and sometimes there will be some cheese, but I am of the schooling that cheese and fish is not the best combination.  In fact, it’s not that I’ve been told it’s not right, but more that I don’t like the flavour combination.  I think fish pie tastes much fresher and cleaner without, although, on request I do sometimes add some parmesan for texture and added crunch!

In this, my version of pistou/ pesto- whatever you want to call it….I have omitted the cheese.  I don’t think you need it.  I feel that the pine nuts (or any other nuts you may choose to use- pistachios work great, too) give sufficient richeness to this emerald green, sensory pervading, aromatic, magic sauce that just lifts this whole dish.  Don’t worry, you will have a little left over to stir into pasta for the next day’s lunch, oh and you can add the cheese then. :)

Ingredients

  • About 50g of fresh basil leaves.  (about half a large supermarket pot)
  • 1 pack of wild rocket, my pack was about 100g
  • 4-6 tbsp of good quality olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed/canola oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed (I used 2 1/2…but I like garlic :) )
  • 4-5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • Good flaky sea salt and pepper

Method

  1. Toast the pine nuts over a medium heat in a dry frying pan.  Toss often to make sure that they don’t burn .  You want a light brown colour.  Remove from pan when done as they will continue to cook due to their fat content if they are left inside. Burnt pine nuts taste bitter!  Leave to cool before using/ bashing
  2. You can either choose to do this quickly in a food processor, or the more arm achingly satisfying way in a mortar and pestle.  If you choose a mortar and pestle for these amounts, you will need to add the leaves gradually and it will take a good 15 mins of bashing.  I suggest that if you are short on time, use a food processor or hand-held blender.  If you have the time, use the mortar and pestle.  There is something about the creamy texture that you get when you bash it that you don’t get with the food processor.  Also, the gorgeous green fragrance from the leaves as you bruise and annihilate them is to die for :)  If you are using the food processor, add all the ingredients and whizz until it becomes a paste. You can add the oil gradually depending on the consistency you want.  I like it thicker, so use what you prefer.  Taste for seasoning.
  3. If you are using the mighty mortar and pestle, you will enjoy this.  Trust me, it’s a satisfying experience! Start with adding as many leaves as you can, half the pine nuts, the garlic, sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper as this acts as an abrasive to break the leaves down.  Drizzle with oil and start bashing!  Keep adding the rest of the ingredients until your done.  Again add oil to the consistency you want.  If you want it a little thinner, add more oil.  It will take about 15 mins of bashing, but you are left with a beautifully unctuous, fragrant, green goddess of a sauce that you won’t be able to not keep in your fridge regularly!.
  4. This works just as well on the day as it does if you make this the day before; as time passes the flavours meld together beautifully.  You can keep leftovers in the fridge for a week.  Just ensure you add a little oil on top to keep it from oxidizing too much.

For the roasted vegetables:

As I didn’t serve anything starchy with this dish I prepared quite a lot of vegetables.  If you are planning to serve something starchy, you may want to cut down the veg by about 1/3…or cook them anyway and use the leftovers in a quick couscous the next day!

Ingredients

  • 2 Red peppers
  • 1-2 Yellow or Orange pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • 3 good sized courgettes
  • 2 tennis ball sized onions
  • Some decent balsamic
  • Some rapeseed or olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper

Method

  1. Wash and prepare all the veg by chopping them into equal sized chunks. (see picture)
  2. You may need two trays for the veg depending on the size of your trays.  You want to keep the veg on one layer so that they roast properly rather than stew.
  3. Season generously with flaky salt and pepper and douse with some oil.  You want enough that when you toss them they are all coated, but not swimming.  The balsamic totally lifts the sweetness of the roasted veg and balances them.  Add to taste, I probably use about 1/4 cup over all the veg.
  4. Toss well.  Can be prepped in advance- even over night, covered and refrigerated if need be. But as they are so quick to prepare, there isn’t much need.
  5. When it’s time to cook, put the trays in a hot oven- about 225-240 C for about 25-35 mins or until nicely roasted.  If you have two trays be sure to rotate them halfway through  as well as tossing the vegetables at the halfway point.

For the salmon and asparagus:

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 2 cloves of garlic sliced thinly
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 bunches of young/fine asparagus
  • seasoning
  • some oil

Method

  1. Season fish with salt, pepper, a little lemon juice and coat with your oil of choice and place slices of garlic on the flesh side.
  2. Leave to sit for the time it takes to prepare the veg and the pistou or can be prepped in advance over night if needed.
  3. When ready to cook heat to a medium high heat, a frying pan which can either accommodate all 4 pieces comfortably or do them in 2 batches (non stick works best for this to avoid more oil).  Do not add any oil to the pan as it will burn and you have already coated the fish with oil to ensure it doesn’t stick.  Place the fish skin side down and cook until golden and crisp.  It is time to flip the fish when you see the rising opaqueness reach about halfway.  3-4 mins depending on the thickness of your fish. Turn the fish and cook for a few more mins until the fish feels firm and if you break one, there is still some translucency running through it.  This will ensure the fish remains moist.
  4. Once you have removed the fish, take the same pan without cleaning and crank up the heat.  Coat the asparagus in a scant amount of oil and place in the hot pan (you may need to do this in 2 batches if you are using a small pan). Don’t move then too much to ensure they char.  Toss once or twice and they are done.  2-3 mins in total.

To serve,  put a good  heaped tablespoon of the basil and wild rocket pistou on top of the salmon and garnish with pine nuts.  Place the salmon on top of the asparagus and roasted veggies and enjoy!

Bon Appetit!