Tag Archives: cumin

Spiced Tomato Jam

It’s a public holiday today in London – but my visions of a warm day at the beach or in the country were knocked on the head by the lashing rain that appeared this morning! Making the most of an unexpected day in the house, I’ve finished sorting through three years worth of administration and vacuumed and generally tidied the house. I know – very rock’n’roll! Then the moment came to reverse all the good work in the kitchen by embarking on a spontaneous culinary exploit.

So, forgetting the rain, today was also the start of what might be tentatively called “festive baking” as I’m making something that I’m looking forward to eating at Christmas – a sharp-but-sweet spicy tomato jam that is a great addition to a cheeseboard. It also means I can use some of our garden produce and enjoy them later in the year – our tomatoes were better this year than we managed last year (2014 yielded just three tomatoes!), but I’ve also got some big plans for next year to really get the most out of our garden. It might be small, but I’m determined to use it to grow useful things out there!

tomatojam1

This is actually somewhere between a sweet jam and a chutney – it sets and is made with a lot of sugar (like jam), and while it has spices, salt and vinegar that you’d expect in a chutney, it doesn’t have onions or sultanas. It is in turns fruity, sharp, tangy and savoury, with little bursts of flavour from the spices I used. It is absolutely delicious with strong cheddar on oatcakes or crackers, and a little goes a long way.

I made this using cherry tomatoes – partly the result of a glut that we’ve got in the garden at the moment, but you could just as easily do this with bigger tomatoes, red, yellow or even green. I cut half of the cherry tomatoes in two, and trimmed the rest into quarters so that there is some variation in size in the finished jam. If you’re using bigger toms, then you’ll need to chop them into smaller pieces, unless you’re the kind of person that enjoys really chunky jam! I also let the tomatoes cook down in a bit of water so that they break down a bit before adding the sugar. If you add the sugar with the tomatoes at the start of cooking, it can stop them breaking down and leave you with large lumps. This doesn’t affect the flavour, and I think is really just a matter of aesthetics.

tomatojam2

A word of warning – this recipe does not make a lot of jam, but that is not really an issue as you only need a little as it is packed with flavour. As it is easy to make, you can play around with different versions – I like nigella and cumin seeds, but you can also try aniseed or ginger and chilli. Using different colours of tomatoes also looks pretty – yellow tomatoes will keep their golden hue, while red tomatoes will produce anything from a deep orange to a ruby colour. I’ve ended up with one small jar that I can eat over the next couple of weeks, plus a large jar that I can keep in a cupboard for the December festivities. Now…let’s see what cheese I’ve got in the fridge to test out this batch?

To make spicy tomato jam (makes 2-3 small pots):

• 600g cherry tomatoes
• 100ml water
• 2 teaspoons nigella seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 4 whole cloves
• pinch freshly-ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 75g soft brown sugar
• 100g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons pectin powder
• 60ml white wine vinegar
• juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Rinse the tomatoes and cut into a mixture of halves and quarters, removing the stalk part from each. Place in a saucepan with the water and cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer gentle for around 20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, dry toast the nigella and cumin seeds – put them in a saucepan and warm over a medium heat until they smell fragrant. Once done, pour them onto a cold plate.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients (apart from the lemon juice) to the tomatoes. Mix and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, the boil until the setting point is reached(*) before decanting the jam into prepared sterilised jam jars(**).

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little jam on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a minute. Push with your finger – if the jam visibly “wrinkles” when you push it, the jam is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again after a few minutes.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot jam. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

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Fiery Lentil Soup

So what are you up to for Bonfire Night? Baked spuds around the fire, sweets or messy toffee apples?

Personally, I’m a big fan of a flask of soup with some bread to keep the cold out, and I’ve got a recipe that is a guaranteed winter warmer. It’s good old-fashioned lentil soup, which is probably one of the easiest soups to make and I think by far and away one of the most satisfying.

I’ve recently been adding a lot more spices to my food, and that includes a lot more chilli. I’ve actually started to get quite experimental, and I can only apologise to everyone who has been surprised to find allspice cropping up in a range of dishes (albeit – no disasters so far!).

However, today is not an exercise in culinary risk-taking. Rather, it’s my “normal” lentil soup which has been fortified by a sharp twist of lemon juice at the end, and a swirl of chilli paste (in the form of sambal olek). The result is something that is robust, satisfying and packs rather a punch in the flavour department. However, if you’ve got folks around who perhaps prefer things a little milder, adding the chilli at the end avoids them running around looking for glasses of water to kill the heat.

So if you’re off to some Bonfire Night festivities, wrap up warm, keep your pets safe, and have a great evening!

For spicy lentil soup (serves 4, easy to double/triple):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 3 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
• 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
• 250g red lentils
• 1 stock cube
• 1 litre hot water
• salt and pepper, to taste
• lemon juice and chilli paste, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent (five minutes).

2. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes (don’t let them burn). If they get too brown or start to stick, add a dash of water.

3. Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds. If it seems too dry, add some water – this will form a thick paste, and as the water evaporates, it will become oily and cook the spices. Don’t be tempted to add more oil.

4. Add the lentils and carrots and cook briefly, then add the water.

5. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the stock cube, and keep simmering until the lentils are tender. Add more water if the soup is too thick, then add some salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, add a dash of chilli paste and a squeeze of lemon juice, erring on the side of caution!

Worth making? I think the addition of the chilli takes this from a good soup to a great soup. An excellent choice to keep the chill at bay this week!

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Sweet Potato Wedges

Autumn is now with us. The mornings might be bright, but there is that unmistakable crispness in the air that signals things are about to get a lot “fresher” in the coming weeks, and the evenings are getting dark very quickly. Sure, it might still feel warm if you’re in a sunny spot, but when you’re in the shade, or a breeze blows past, you feel just how nippy things are getting.

With the chaos of moving house almost at an end, I’ve finally been back in the kitchen. All of a sudden, my cooking has moved away from the salads of summer, and quick, light suppers, and into much more substantial fare. Lentil dishes with lots of spices, curries, baked squash, soups, fritters…it’s the time of year to batten down the hatches and do all you can to fend off the cold weather that is approaching. It’s not a conscious change on my part, but there are certain dishes the you just have a craving for as the seasons roll by. I have, however, resisted the urge to buy Christmas pudding, even if my local shop has decided that this is exactly what we want to eat in October.

In much of my cooking at this time of year, I use a lot of spices, and I take a heavy-handed approach. I somehow feel that lots of cumin, pepper, ginger, garlic and sambal will help to fight off the sniffles during the colder months. It might work, it might not, but it certainly makes things a lot more tasty. It’s also worth getting a little more creating in how you season things – one of my current favourites is ground allspice, which is very common in sweet treats like biscuits and gingerbread, but it adds an interesting dimension to savoury dishes too.

It was with all this in mind that I got round to trying something that was on my “to make” list for quite some time. I love sweet potatoes baked and topped with feta, so I expected great things when they were spiced and baked as wedges.

Pleasingly, these are very, very simple to make – nothing much more than peeled sweet potato, cut to size, then tossed in oil with some spices, and then baked. They also have the benefit of looking very impressive – a jolly autumnal bust of orange when freshly cut, turning a deeper colour after baking. They can also be prepared hours ahead of time and left in the spice mixture to marinade (if it is possible to marinade potatoes?), and make a great snack or side dish. However it is the spices that take these from so-so to wow-wow. The spices you use are completely up to you – I went with some personal favourites (allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin). A tasty little dish as the long nights draw in.

As you can see below, these wedges hold their shape rather nicely too after being baked in a hot oven.

To make sweet potato wedges:

• 2 large sweet potatoes
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• spices – select 5, and use 1/2 teaspoon of each(*)

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

2. Peel the potatoes. Cut lengthways into eight wedges, then slice each wedge diagonally (so each potato provides 16 pieces).

3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil and spices. Mix well, then add the potato wedges.

4. Transfer the coated wedges to a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 30-40 minutes until you can insert a knife easily, and the wedges are just stating to brown at the edges.

5. Serve immediately with the dip of your choice.(**)

(*) For the spices, I used allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin. And then I cheated and added some dried thyme too.

(**) I served these with a sprinkle of salt, and a dip made from tahini, yoghurt, sambal and lime juice.

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Spicy Lentils with Mint and Goat Cheese

I’m still in the post-Christmas health kick phase. There has been lots of walking instead of taking the bus, “body attack” classes at the gym, and I’m still sticking with my attempt to cook lots of healthy dishes based on lentils and beans. So mostly, I’ve been feeling the effects of exercise on a scale that I’m really not use to – ouch!

But on the culinary front – we did beans last week, so today, it’s lentils, and one of my favourite easy dishes.

This dish basically consists of lentils in a spicy tomato sauce that is enlivened with crumbled goat cheese and some shredded fresh mint. You’ve got a filling lunch or supper which is, in turns, warm, spicy, creamy, tangy and minty-fresh. It therefore lends itself very nicely to this time of year, but it’s equally suited to a lazy lunch or dinner on a warm day (remember those? Just a few months to wait…).

This is one of those dishes that is easy-peasy. I know that so many blogs promise recipes that are “really easy” (which begs the question – would anyone really post a recipe that requires three days in the kitchen???), but I promise you, this really, really is. You essentially throw everything into a pot, and then let it simmer slowly until the lentils are tender. Allow to cool slightly, then add the cheese and mint – job done!

For the spices, you can pretty much go with whatever you have to hand, so take this more as a guide rather than any sort of precise list. I like to add turmeric (for a slight yellowish tinge), paprika or piment d’Espelette, a dash of cumin and coriander, dried oregano and thyme, and a few cumin and mustard seeds for busts of flavour. Most likely I have never used the same combination twice – I just go with what I see in the store cupboard.

If you’re after more depth of flavour – and don’t mind some extra steps in the cooking process – you can fry the spices before adding the lentils (either dry fry or cook in a little olive oil), but that is about as complicated as this dish gets. I often fry the spices in oil, but when I’m in a lazy mood, I go for the “all in” approach and it works just fine.

The only thing that I add towards the end of the cooking process is a tiny pinch of salt – I read somewhere that it can make lentils tougher if added too early. I have no idea is this is true or not, but it’s become one of my kitchen rituals, so I guess it’s a habit that I am stuck with.

To make spicy lentils with mint and goat cheese (4 portions):

• 250g brown or green lentils
• spices, according to taste (around 4 teaspoons in total)

• 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
• stock cube or salt

• goat cheese or feta, crumbled
• fresh mint leaves, chopped

Rinse the lentils and put into a large saucepan with the spices.

Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then add the tomatoes and simmer until the lentils are tender (around 30 minutes). Season with the stock cube or salt, then keep cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm or cold, with crumbled goat cheese or feta and some chopped fresh mint.

Worth making? Definitely worth making – this is quick, easy and very, very tasty. Tweak the spices according to preference, and you get a delicious lunch for the next day too!

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Black Bean Stew

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

Now that all the festive fun is over, it is time to make up for all that indulgence. This year, I think I was actually rather restrained, but upping the intake of healthy stuff in the middle of winter is never a bad thing. So this year, my resolution is to cook with less salt, less butter and more pulses and legumes. This is for January initially, but we’ll see how things go. You’d think I would have learned to be careful about basing lots of posts around a theme after all the Christmas baking, but I’m just a glutton for punishment!

Now, let’s be honest – salt and butter are fantastic. They are delicious, work wonders in food, and sometimes there is no substitute. however, it is easy to get lazy and just add more of each in a dish under the guise of “adding flavour”, and before you know it, you’re using too much. So this is less about eliminating the, and more about cutting them down for a while and trying other things to boost the taste of a dish – slow cooking, adding spices, a twist of lemon juice, chargrilling…and if nothing else, it will get me trying a few new things in the kitchen. Remember – it’s about cutting down, but cutting out, so when I do slip a bit of butter on a slice of bread, I’ll appreciate it all the more.

The “beans and legumes” element is about using ingredients that it can be all too easy to overlook in the kitchen, particular those that need to be soaked overnight. I am a huge fan of pasta, and when you get home a little late in the day, pasta will always win out over beans that need soaking overnight. So…my hope is that by using them more, I will change that and become better acquainted with…eh…the magical world of beans!

So here is my first dish, which I think is simplicity itself – an easy stew of black turtle beans and tomatoes. You throw everything in one pot and in less than an hour, it’s done. There is also no added salt in the stew itself. Instead, I’ve made liberal use of aromatic spices and added a dash of paprika for some warmth. The tomatoes all add some tanginess too. Basta!

To make black bean stew (serves 4):

• 200g black turtle beans
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds, toasted and crushed
• grated cheddar, to serve

Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, drain, rinse well, then put back in the pan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Next, add all the spices and chopped tomatoes. Stir well and keep simmering – uncovered – for another 30 minutes until the stew is thick and the beans are soft. If the stew gets too dry too quickly, add more water – the beans need a total cooking time of 60 minutes.

Serve with a spoon of low-fat natural yoghurt and a small sprinkling of grated mature cheddar.

Worth making? I love this as a main dish – it’s very easy to prepare and has lots of flavour. It defiantly comes under the “easy winter suppers” category and is a good recipe for the repertoire.

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Halloween: Spicy Pumpkin Soup

The leaves are turning riotous shades of red and gold, and there are pumpkins to be seen everywhere! The witching season is nearly upon us…and who can resist making a pumpkin lantern? Not me anyway. This little fellow is now perched on the windowsill to spook passing children who are hoping to extort sweets from strangers.

But while pumpkin lanterns look frankly awesome in the dark, you are inevitably left with lots and lots of pumpkin to use up. And, of course, it would be a shame to waste it.

In carving this bad boy, I ended up with a large bowl of shredded pumpkin flesh, thanks to my carving technique. I cut the top, scooped out the seeds, and then used a spoon to scrape back the flesh. The less flesh left inside the pumpkin, the brighter the orange glow from the pumpkin when you put a candle in there, and of course, that’s what we want to see!

This approach, however, means that any recipe that suggests slow-roasting chunks of pumpkin flesh is pretty much out of the question. This left me with two basic choices: pie or soup. Given that I’ve just survived making one of the most sugar-packed sweets on the planet, I opted to make a big pot of something savoury.

Pumpkin soup and I have had a slightly odd relationship over the years. My early attempts were not great. I tended to throw everything in a pan and let it simmer. The resulting soup was often bland, watery and lacked much colour. That something so insipid could come from something as vivid, orange and downright fun as a pumpkin seemed desperately unfair.

Since those early attempts, I have refined my approach, and I reckon I have nailed it. First thing is to fry some onions for a long time over a gentle heat so that they caramelise nicely. Then add lots and lots of spices. You can add pretty much whatever you like, but I find that cumin, curry powder and some paprika are great, plus a good dash of turmeric to add a bit of earthiness and some colour. The pumpkin flesh is then added to the onions and fried for around five minutes, so it starts to cook but doesn’t just go watery. It is at this stage that you see just how much water the pumpkin actually contains already, so when you do come to add some stock, you see why you don’t need so much of it. I also add a potato to the simmering broth for a little extra richness of texture. Finish it off with a nice big dash of double cream and it’s a perfect autumn warmer – a thick, rich, spicy soup.

For me, pumpkin soup needs to be silky-smooth, so it has to be pureed to within an inch of its life, and then passed through a sieve. However, it is also nice to have a bit of texture to provide some contrast. So how to do this when you’ve just gone to great lengths to ensure the soup is essentially texture-free? Well, there are two easy ways to do it, and not mutually exclusive. Some black pepper croutons are great in this soup, as are some pumpkin seeds that have been lightly toasted in a little oil and some spices. This all helps to make the dish richer and more spicy, with a welcome crunch in the soup.

When it comes to serving this soup, you can score some easy points on presentation by drizzling over a tablespoon of double cream, and the a spoonful of olive oil. Slightly Jackson Pollock, assuming that Jackson Pollock ever made pumpkin soup. But if he did, I have no doubt it might have looked something like this.


Happy pumpkin carving!

To make pumpkin soup (serves 6-8):

For the soup:

• 4 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon paprika
• flesh of one large pumpkin
• 1 litre vegetable stock

• 1 potato, peeled and diced
• 4 tablespoon double cream
• water, as needed
• salt and pepper, to taste

For the croutons:

• 2 handfuls cubes of bread (baguette or sourdough)
• freshly ground black pepper
• large pinch salt
• 3 tablespoons olive oil

Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the vegetable stock and the potato, bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

In the meantime, make the croutons: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200°C (400°F) until golden.

Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, stir in the cream, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a swirl of cream, a swirl of olive oil and a few croutons.

Worth making? When you’re faced with the aftermath of pumpkin carving, this is a great way to use up the pumpkin flesh. The slight warmth from the paprika and the spices make it a great lunch or supper dish as the weather starts to get colder.

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Muttar Paneer

You may already have read about my liking for Indian food, and one of my favourite ingredients is paneer. This is an Indian cheese which is made from milk and lemon, and thus has the benefit of being 100% vegetarian, which just happens to feature in two Indian dishes that I absolutely love – palak paneer (cheese with spinach) and today’s feature, muttar paneer (cheese with peas).

I’ve eaten muttar paneer for years, and a few months ago decided to do it myself at home. “I assume you made your own paneer?” sniffed Fashpolitico at the time. “It’s terribly easy“. Well, yes, while I could have made my own paneer had I had a spare afternoon and the inclination, to be honest, noting beats the convenience of the 200g block that is stocked in my local shop. I’ll get round to making it one day, so another one for the list…

What you’ll notice about making paneer is just how simple it is – milk is soured, the whey drained off, and the curds washed and compressed. This yields a high-protein food, but also something that could lead to a very bland final result. So what to do? Well, the usual solution to any food that seems less than jiggy – cook it with lots of spice! Paneer is best in all manner of well-seasoned, fragrant dishes. I used it recently as a starter – marinated in curry and oil, and then lightly fried on both sides and served with a simple fresh coriander sauce. I suppose you could see this as a more substantial version of tofu, with the final result really being influences on just how you cook it.

Muttar paneer is well worth trying. It is one of those really simply cook-it-together-in-one-pan recipes, it is also great when you don’t have much in the store cupboard. You can play fast and loose with the spices, vary how much garlic and ginger you use, go for all fresh or all tinned tomatoes. Provided you have the paneer and some frozen peas, you’re sorted. Just make sure you get the spices right – I was always a little scared of putting in too much, but recently I’d been adding more and more, such that I will routinely double or triple the amount in a recipe. If you like it spicy, don’t be scared to be bold.

For serving, this is great with a little plain boiled rice, whole-wheat naan or chappatis and a little yoghurt raita, or go for a posh canapé and serve small portions on Chinese soup spoons.

For the muttar paneer:

• Vegetable oil
• 200g paneer
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger (peeled and finely chopped)
• 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• 3 teaspoons curry powder
• 2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon sambal sauce
• 1/2 stock cube
• 100g fresh tomatoes, chopped
• 400g tin chopped tomatoes
• 3 tablespoons tomato paste, mixed with a little water
• 50ml double cream
• 200g petit pois (frozen is fine, fresh if you want)

Cut the paneer into chunks (as you prefer, I aim for 1 cm cubes). Heat one tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, and cook the paneer until golden all over. It will hiss and crackle with a tendency to jump up and make a bolt for freedom, so keep an eye on it.

Once the paneer is cooked, put on a plate and allow to cool. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of oil plus the onion and ginger, and fry gently until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, cumin seeds and the nigella seeds. Cook gently for a few minutes, being careful not to let the garlic get too dark.

Now add another two tablespoons of oil and the ground spices. Fry the spices for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add a glass of water, and the mixture will form a loose paste. Cook on a medium heat until the water in the mixture evaporates and the mixture becomes thicker and oily. At this stage, add the chopped fresh tomatoes, and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes become soft.

Now add the stock cube, the tinned tomatoes, the tomato paste and the cream, and stir well. On a low heat, allow the mixture to cook until the sauce thickens (around 30 minutes – check from time to time and season as preferred with salt and pepper). You can, of course, cook at a higher heat and the sauce will be ready sooner, but the slower cooking will allow the flavours to develop and mingle. Around half-way through the cooking process, add the frozen peas. Add the paneer a few minutes before serving – you only need to warm it through.

Serve hot with rice, bread, raita and chutney.

Worth making? I really like this recipe and it always works well. It can also be made ahead of time, and in my view, benefits from being allowed to sit so that the flavours can develop (just don’t add the peas too early – we want them fresh and green, not brown). Also, a word on the spices – really, go with what you want. If you like it spicy or very hot, then feel free to add more than the quantities I have given here. If it does end up too hot, just make sure there is enough cooling raita to solve the problem! You can also substitute sambal sauce with your favourite hotsauce (or omit if you don’t like it too spicy).

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