Tag Archives: nigella

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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Drink More Gin!

Last autumn I got into making a few of my own fruit liqueurs. Flavours of the season like quince, damson, sloe and spiced pear. Each of them was delicious and well worth the patience required to let them sit and quietly do their thing down in the cellar. Nothing quite as magical as pouring a little glass, and setting down to watch a festive film on the sofa next to the Christmas tree.

However, my autumnal shenanigans left me playing things fairly safely, as I had stuck to familiar fruity flavours. Of course, I had also made a batch of cinnamon-infused vodka, which packed quite a punch, even when served ice-cold, and this got me thinking about making something that was based on herbs and spices. And this quickly led me to the idea of trying to make my own gin.

Now, before anyone gets the idea that I might set fire to my own house or that they should call the police, I’m not actually planning to start running a home distillery under the stairs! No, the recommended approach for those of a gin-like persuasion and sufficiently bonkers to have a go at this at home is to take some decent-ish vodka, and then add various botanicals to allow their flavour to infuse into the alcohol. Given that most of the ingredients you use are fairly strong flavours, the whole thing is done in about three days. What you will get at the end is something that doesn’t look like the clear gin that you are probably used to, but it certainly has the flavours and aromas you might expect. The difference is due to the way commercial gins are produced, allowing the spirit to distil through the botanticals, taking the flavours as it goes and resulting in a clear spirit. My method will give you  bit more of an amber colour, but that probably means it has traces of vitamins in there too.

Now, if you’re going to make gin, the one non-negotiable ingredient in there is juniper berries. These have a wonderfully fruity and almonst pine-like aroma, very resinous, which when you smell them has that specific gin-like aroma. If I were being very ambitious, I would be harvesting these myself, as they grow wild in Scotland. Well, maybe next time, but I had to make do with dried berries from Wholefoods. The bushes tend not to grow wild in the streets of London. Do not be misled by the name London Gin!

Beyond the juniper, you’ve pretty much got complete freedom about what you want to add, and it is at this point that you might just want to raid your spice drawer or cabinet to see what you can get your hands on. The key thing to think about is what are the two or three key notes that you want to come out in terms of flavour, and then major on those, with other ingredients acting more as background flavours, to be hinted at rather than standing centre stage.

As supporting stars, I oped for cardamom, which is just about my favourite spice, with a fresh lemon-like aroma that I thought would enhance the juniper. In addition to that, I added some orange peel (rather than the more obvious lemon or lime) and a blade of star anise. This last spice in particular is very, very powerful. It adds an exotic sweet spicy note, but it really is easy to get this wrong. I added this on day two, and by day three (the last day of infusing) it was already quite noticeable.

GinBotanicals1

After that, free rein beckons. I also added a teaspoon of coriander seeds to add a little more citrus. I also did just as I suggest you do, raiding the spice drawer to add a pinch of the more aromatic items in there – red peppercorns, nigella seeds and caraway.

I also drew some inspiration from a Spanish gin that I enjoyed in Barcelona last year, which was infused with rosemary. That seemed like a good idea to try here. I also went for some thyme and lavender leaves. It was just like picking tea, I plucked only the fresh new leaves from the tips of each plant. Each of these could, on its own, be very powerful, and I did not want much more than a hint of their respective flavours.

Now, I mentioned already that I added a blade of star anise on day two. I also added a small piece of cinnamon at the same time. Both of these are sweet, woody spices, and I thought they would help to balance the fresher flavours that I already had in the gin. I make all of this sound like science, but of course, it really was all just guesswork.

GinBotanicals2

It is important to take all this merely as inspiration, and not to feel limited by what I’ve suggested. I enjoy Hendriks, a Scottish gin flavoured with cucumber and rose petals, as well as a recent discovery called Ophir, which strong notes of cardamom and black peppercorn (note to readers – talk to bartenders, they will introduce you to new things!). Whatever herbs and spices you enjoy, chances are someone makes a gin with it.

What is important is to think about what you’ve got to hand as well as what is in season. I’ve also got a blackcurrant sage bush in the garden, which could be interesting for next time? If I get back to this in summer, I can always add a few rose petals, a few violets, and perhaps a little lemon thyme…balanced with pepper, caraway and aniseed?

Whatever combination of botanicals you use, there is one way to get a rough idea of the aroma you can expect. Put everything into a bowl, then crush lightly. This should release some of the essential oils, and you’ll get a very vague sense of what you can expect. If something is dominating, then remove it, or add more of what you feel you are missing.

botanicals

Making home-made gin is a dooddle. I put everything (other than the cinnamon and star anise) into a bottle of vodka. After one day, that familiar aroma of gin was there, and the vodka has taken on a light amber hue. On day four (72 hours steeping) I strained the mixture, poured a shot into a glass with ice and a slice of cucumber, and topped it up with tonic to make what I hoped would taste not unlike a G&T. So how was it?

gin

Well…really quite fantastic. The flavours are much more pronounced than in distilled gins, and I could pick out the various flavours that I used, but the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The best way to describe this is as something that is very different from the gin that you are used to, not a replacement, but nice as an addition to the drinks cabinet. It is not as crisp, but you get more of the individual flavour components while drinking. I found that my particular gin was only so-so with lemon, nice with orange zest, but it really came to life with a slice of cucumber. Perhaps it was the fact that there was quite a lot of juniper and warm spice in there that meant it was complemented by the cool freshness of cucumber. All in all – I think I’ve had a success with this one!

To infuse your own gin (makes 750ml):

• 750ml good basic vodka
• 3 tablespoons juniper berries
• 1 teaspoon cardamom pods
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 1 sprig lavender leaves (tips only)
• 4 sprigs fresh rosemary (tips only)
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme (tips only)
• pinch red peppercorns
• pinch caraway seeds
• pinch nigella seeds
• 2 strips orange peel, shredded
• 1 blade star anise
• 1/2cm piece cinnamon

1. Lightly crush the seeds and bruise the leaves. Put everything in the vodka bottle, apart from the cinnamon and star anise. Leave to infuse in a dark place for two days, shaking from time to time.

2. Add the star anise and cinnamon. Shake well, and leave in a dark place for another 24 hours, shaking from time to time.

3. Once the mixture is ready, strain to remove the seeds and herbs. If you prefer, pass through a filter.

4. Enjoy on ice with tonic and a slice of cucumber.

Worth making? Yes! This is super-easy and the flavours are really fantastic.

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Dukkah

Six months ago, I had never heard of dukkah. Since then, it seems to be all over the place. I’ve seen it on quite a few blogs, in newspaper recipe sections and in a couple of restaurants. No doubt the oh-so-trendy shops of Stoke Newington Church Street will be stocking the stuff soon. So I’m finally taking the hint…there is clearly some sort of dukkah trend happening, so let’s try it out.

Dukkah 101: what is it? Basically, ground-up stuff. Nuts, seeds and spices. It originates in Egypt, and it does indeed have a heady flavour and aroma that suggests that part of the world.

Now, a little digging seems to suggest to me that the list of ingredients above is about as comprehensive as it gets.

There seem to be literally dozens of ways to make dukkah (or dukka…or duqqa…seems there are lots of ways to spell it too), and I can imagine that many proud Egyptian cooks have their own favourite (and most likely secret) ways of making it.

You might use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or more exotic nuts like cashews or macadamia nuts. There might be sunflower seeds in there. Perhaps chickpeas. Do you have pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard seeds, coconut? Well, all depends on what you like. Nigella seeds? Why not. Fennel? Perhaps. Whatever you’re using, just make sure it’s toasted if necessary, then ground up. And that, as they say, is that.

For my version, I decided not to do any forward planning. I would wing it. Let’s see what’s in the house, and then hope for the best. It was a very dreary Saturday morning, so actually the best time to make something that brings flavours and aromas of far-off places.

For the nuts, I used hazelnuts and pistachios, which I toasted lightly in the oven. I also had a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so they also went into the oven for a few minutes. I thought I also had almonds, but no – I must have used them all up, so they were not going to be used today. Winging it, remember!

I also dry-roasted a few things in a saucepan. Sesame seeds, nigella (black onion seeds), fennel and cumin seeds. I also added a bit of black pepper, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt.

With things at various stages of toastedness, I got to grinding them. The spices were pretty finely ground. For the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the nuts, I worked to the rule of thirds – one-third fine powder, one-third moderately ground, and one-third in small chunks. It’s a rule in so far as this is what I did. Not sure that it is a real culinary rule, or even a tenet of making good dukkah. But it worked.

Having made what is essentially a large bowl of spiced nut powder, I now needed a way to eat it.

Well, use it whenever you need to add a little flavour.The simple option is to serve it with bread and olive oil (dip bread in oil, then in the dukkah, then marvel at the taste). Just avoid getting too much oil into the dukkah bowl. This stops the dukkah sticking to the bread, and I suspect that this would be regarded as terribly bad form in a Cairo café. The lesson? Keep your powder dry!

Or make hummus or some other dip, and sprinkle the dukkah all over it. Or take cubes of soft cheese or feta and coat with dukkah. Or add spoonfuls to a green leafy salad, add a simple vinaigrette and enjoy the rich flavours that the dukkah adds.

You might just sense from this that I really like this stuff. I’ve found that it makes a great condiment, and while it’s got salt and pepper in there, it also adds interesting new dimensions to foods. You also find that you get different flavours with each mouthful. An aromatic moment from the nigella seed, a flash of hotness from the paprika, then the warmth of cumin seeds.

The recipe looks long, but just because I’ve tried to make it clear what’s happening and a few tips to make sure everything turns out great. But I reckon you could go from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and that’s only because you need to let the nuts cool down. Happy grinding!

To make dukkah:

Note: this is just a guide, adapt spices to your own tastes!

• 100g (approx. 1  cup) nuts (I used pistachios and hazelnuts)
• 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika or Piment d’Espelette

Set the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Put the nuts on a baking tray, and put the sunflower seeds on another tray. Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and lightly coloured, and the sunflower seeds are golden brown (be careful – seeds are done before the nuts so come out sooner!). When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Next, toast the sesame seeds – put them into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Keep stirring the seeds until they are golden and smell toasted. Remove from the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will keep cooking and might burn).

Finally, toast the spice seeds. Put the nigella, fennel and cumin into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the seeds start to “pop”. Take off the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool.

Now, the fun part. Using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, grind everything! Grind the spices finely, but for the seeds and nuts, aim to have some ground to a very fine powder, but leave some just barely crushed – this adds a bit of visual interest and texture to the finished dukkah.

Store in a large jam jar in a dark place.

Worth making? This really is a very simple but very delicious condiment for the table. It’s great to spice up and enrich dips, salads, sandwiches etc, and it great if you like interactive appetisers.

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Sumac Braised Nettles topped with Onion Seeds

The weather on Saturday was glorious in London. I wanted to go and see some countryside, so I jumped in the train from Stoke Newington up to Cheshunt to explore the River Lee park, a network of canals, footpaths and cycle tracks with pockets of woodland, meadow and grassy glades.

The Lee is a tributary of the River Thames, which forms the heart of one of the largest nature parks in or near London. With blue skies, warm air, the fresh green leaves of spring and white flowers of elder and hemlock everywhere, it was truly beautiful. See for yourself below! I will definitely be heading back soon with my bike to see more of the area.


In addition to all the spring flowers, there was also the old scourge of childhood, the stinging nettle. I’ve got to say, the nettles looked pretty impressive in huge drifts along the banks of the rivers and canals. This is spring, so everything looks new and fresh.

Before I set off on my little trip, I had fully expected to come across nettles, and as I had recently seen a recipe in the Observer Food Monthly by chef Silvena Rowe which used them, I came armed with a bag and some gloves. Her recipe involved briefly cooking the nettle leaves, adding them to what seemed like a risotto mixture, then finishing with a good dash of sumac and a generous sprinkling of black onion seeds. I picked a good serving of nettle leaves, then we headed up through the park in the sun. It was hot, and we loved it. A great day out which I can really recommend. Just remember the sunscreen as you are walking along rivers, and you otherwise end up with a very rosy glow by sundown.

Once home, I duly made my nettle dish. While nettles will sting you when you are in the country side or the garden, their sting is neutralised by cooking, and in this case, wilting the leaves in water for a couple of minutes. They also have the advantage of apparently being very, very healthy. I expected this dish to be very much like a risotto…except, it wasn’t. It was delicious, but the texture was more like a rice salad, with a very fresh character from the sumac and onion seeds. The feta provided a strong, salty element to the dish, and on balance, it made a really nice light supper on a hot day. Yes, I was perhaps a little bit red, and a nice light meal was perfect as my body continued to radiate heat long after the sun had set…

If you would like to try Silvena’s recipe for sumac braised nettles topped with onion seeds, you can find it here.

In making it, however, I made a few tweaks. I used less nettles – probably two cups of just the fresh leaves as this was all I had. I needed to add a bit more liquid during the cooking, and I also added quite a bit more sumac than the recipe called for (probably a whole teaspoon in the end). Finally, I coated the top of the feta in more sumac to provide a bit of colour and to contrast with the rice and nettles. While the recipe is supposed to serve four (and this would be true as a side dish), I think it really makes a generous dinner for two.

Worth making? This is a nice dish which I’ll try again as it makes a pleasant change from risotto when you want to make a rice dish. The black onion seeds were particularly good. However, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that while I am glad I tried this, but I probably won’t be making it again with nettles. It was interesting to try, but I had expected a bit more “wow” from them. While this dish will probably appear on the menu again, it will be with spinach or chard. I guess I’m just not enough of a fan of cooking dinner in a pair of rubber gloves.

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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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