Tag Archives: rice

Karelian Pastries

These curious looking little fellows are one of Finland’s oldest dishes, called Karelian pies (Karjalanpiirakat) – simple savoury rice pies in a rye crust.

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Now, when it comes to pies, there is a lot of competition out there. Dozens of different cheeses, delicious vegetables and exotic and interesting spices to tempt the hungry. In such a competitive field, you might think that something that sounds as boring as “savoury rice pies” might not be a winner. But trust me on this one – I’ve had them in Finland and loved them, and the were equally delicious when I made them back home. Think of this as two types of carbs, baked with butter – now if you were in Finland and there was three feet of snow outside, you’d probably be in the mood for that sort of thing!

So what makes them so good? The fact they are delicious may or may not have something to do with the fact that the rye pastry is dipped in or brushed with melted salted butter just before baking, making it crisp and (unsurprisingly) buttery. The filling is a thick rice pudding, made with milk and a little salt, so it is both rich and satisfying savoury. The end result? These simple little rice pies are really rather addictive!

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The good news is that these pies are very easy to make, and you’ve probably got everything that you need in the cupboard right now. If you want to omit the milk and/or butter, then that’s easy too, so they can be veganised or made lactose-free too. They’re nice warm, but equally good cold, so they are a great addition to a picnic. The only drawback is that it is very tempting to have just one more, and then just one more again. So if you do whip up a batch, make sure you have enough!

I also love how they look – they seem rather fancy and impressive, but shaping them is quite straightforward. Just roll out the dough, add the filling, then crimp the edges with you fingers. Make it complex or make it as simple as you like – every baker seems to have their own version, but I wanted to go for something that was small and could be munched in a couple of bites. You can easily adapt this recipe to make fewer larger pies, or double it to make more.

If you want to enjoy these the traditional Finnish way, top them with a spoonful of chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with (you guessed it) more butter.

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Makes around 10:

For the filling

• 75g short grain rice (such as arborio or pudding rice)
• 130ml water
• 400ml milk

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pastry:

• 125g rye flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
• 100ml water

To finish:

• 100g salted butter, melted

1. Start with the filling. Put the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk, and continue to cook over a low heat, uncovered, until you have a thick rice pudding texture (30-40 minutes). Add the salt, stir well, cover and put to one side to allow to cool.

2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).

3. Make the pastry. Mix the rye flour and the salt. Add the oil and then add enough water to make a soft dough that is not sticky.

4. Roll the dough into a long sausage, and cut into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll out on a floured worktop to make a circle of around 10-12cm diameter.

5. Divide the filling between the pastry circles – around 2 tablespoons each (tip: make sure the filling is cool – if it is warm, the dough can soften and make them harder to handle). Take each pie, and life the edges and press inwards to make an oval shape. Use your fingers to crimp the edges so that the pastry holds the filling in the pie.

6. Take each finished pie and dip the pastry into the melted butter. You can do this with your hands or a slotted spoon, or use a pastry brush to coat the pastry.

7. Arrange the pies on the baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is just starting to colour.

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Yaki Onigiri

That’s fried rice balls to you and me. Now think about it…fried starch…sounding pretty good, eh?

My first experience of yaki onigiri was in Brussels at a Japanese restaurant called Kushetei. It was a great dinner, but things got a little weird when we got to dessert – no selection of exquisite Japanese sweets, but instead we got mochi filled with ice-cream. Straight from the packet, complete with cute anime-style characters. I am sure that this would be delightfully whimsical to aficionados of Japanese culture, but to me, back in the day, it just seemed a slightly odd way to complete a meal.

Of the many tasty things that I tried that night, what stood out for me were the fried rice balls. The staff did have an annoying habit of sprinkling fish flakes over them (I don’t think they got that fish flakes were not a vegetable), so each time a fresh batch arrived, the fish flakes had to be picked off with forensic precision. Once that was done, the rice balls were delicious.

Back in my Brussels kitchen I decide to try making them myself, but my early attempts went rather spectacularly badly. What went wrong? Well, I failed at almost the first hurdle. I reached into the cupboard for rice, any old rice, and it was a packet of the plain white stuff. I had put enough thought into the process to realise that the rice needs to be somewhat sticky so that it could be formed into balls, so I just boiled it until sort of soupy, drained, and proceeded on my way. Well, whatever I did, it didn’t really work and I ended up with rice balls that had a tendency to collapse. I ended up with a large plate of oily, partially-fried rice swimming in soy sauce. It just about tasted alright, but this was not something that would cause the skilled chef in a Japanese restaurant to lose sleep. If anything, he’s probably have attached me with a sushi knife for my lame efforts!

Fast forward more than half a decade. Putting aside the fact that time seems to fly past with increasingly alarming speed, I would be so bold as to suggest that I am now a better cook, but more fundamentally, I also have access to much better ingredients. Brussels had good shops, but if you really want to get hold of culinary items that are strange, niche or obscure, London will oblige (with the exception of yuzu fruit – still no trace of it!). I’ve blogged about my searches for peculiar raising agents for baking (like ammonium or pottasche). For the rice balls, I needed sushi rice. Well, luckily that’s actually pretty easy to come by in this town. So as they say in the movies, let’s do it again, but once more with feeling (and the correct rice).

This time, I am happy to report that my rice was obligingly sticky, the rice balls could be formed with ease (and very sticky hands), and the result was sensational. Utterly sensational. One of those it is so good I can’t stop at three types of dishes. My only regret is that I did not make double the amount, and this is definitely going to be one of my kitchen staples from now on. I mean – fried starch. We all love that, right?

The good news – all you need is rice, oil and soy sauce. You’re about an hour away from something utterly delicious!

To make Yaki Onigiri:

• sushi rice
• oil (I used grapeseed)
• soy sauce(*)

1. Cook the sushi rice according to the instructions on the packet. Assume 75g per person.

2. While the rice is still warm, shape into balls or cubes. It’s easiest to keep your hands very well-oiled, as the rice is super-sticky.

3. Fry the rice balls. You probably don’t need more oil – what’s on the balls should be enough. Once golden all over, remove and brush with soy sauce. Fry again until crispy. And that’s it! Just sit back and enjoy!

(*) If you are feeling adventurous, mix the soy sauce with other things – I added a dash of sambal to mine (Indonesian rather than Japanese, but never mind) for a tiny dash of heat, and a little sesame oil for a nutty flavour.

Worth making? Get the right rice, and O-M-G these work amazingly well. These are fantastic as part of a meal or as snacks with drinks. While utterly delicious, they are also vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, so they should be a winner with everyone.

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Oh, mon amour! Risotto aux betteraves rouges

Ah, ’tis nearly Valentine’s day! Blink, and you might miss it. Seem like only yesterday that all the Christmas decorations were up(*) but the local stores are already awash with chocolate Easter eggs. I am constantly amused how you can check the time of the year by the range of sweets and goodies on offer at the till.

Now, I could have made some form of heart-shaped biscuits or chocolates, or a red cupcake, but that would be (1) predictable, and (2) against the spirit of blogging more savoury dishes. Not to miss out on the luuuurve that is in the air at this time of year, I’ve produced something that is perfect for a romantic dinner with that special someone, and also keeps the red theme going. Just be sure that the relevant special someone likes beetroot.

This really is just a simple risotto, but chopped beetroot goes in with the first ladle of stock to make sure the colour is a vibrant dark magenta, and a few tweaks at the end of the cooking process to play on the flavour and colour of the beetroot.

The key thing is to use fresh beetroot, rather than the stuff that comes preserved in vinegar. I feel that it’s almost too obvious to point out, but something that has been sitting in acid for weeks and weeks is not going to be your best friend in a risotto. I appreciate that I am not speaking from experience here, and by all means give it a bash if you think that it would work, but it strikes me as a flavour combination I could happily miss. And really – who serves their beloved a plate of vinegar? But…that being said…a slight sharpness does work with beetroot, so I actually add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, just to add the tiniest hint of sharpness. Just a touch though!

But let’s face it, the reason for making this is just the fantastic colour. It looks utterly stunning, and quite amazing to think this is completely natural. When I add the beetroot, I chop into a combination of larger and smaller pieces, so that you can still see the darker beetroot (which ends up looking like the dish is studded with garnets) next to the vibrant red rice. If you prefer, grate the beetroot – you’ll get more colour, but you’ll also have pink juice everywhere. Up to you…

To top this, I add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not too much, don’t hid the colour), plus some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped chives. Their green colours contrast with the redness, and the flavours play well with the beetroot. However, toasted pine nuts and/or a light sprinkling of fresh dill would also work well.

(*) In fact, a certain house down our street seems to be stuck on 24 December, with the plastic tree still in the window…I’ve checked, and there are people alive in there, so not to worry.


To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 300g beetroot, boiled, peeled and finely chopped or grated
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cream

Warm the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Tip in the beetroot and black pepper, and add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add more when the previous addition has almost evaporated. The rice will start as light pink, but will change to a deep reddish-pink towards the end.

Once all the stock has been added, cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a scattering of toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, and a scattering of chopped chives or dill.

Worth making? I love risotto anyway, but this one looks stunning on the plate and has a fabulous flavour. The beetroot and dill make it a little more unusual, but I think this is a great combination.

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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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