Tag Archives: savoury

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.

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Savoury

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.

karelianpastry4

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!

karelianpastry3 karelianpastry2

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.

karelianpastry1

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.

25 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Scottish Food: Skirlie

Burns Night might have passed, but I’ve got one last Scottish recipe that I would like to share. This one is great, as it is both incredibly tasty, very simple to make and really rather healthy given that the main ingredients is the wonderfood that is oats.

This dish is called skirlie, and I’ve been making it rather a lot recently. You can more or less make it from cupboard and fridge staples, and the taste is definitely a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Skirlie is made from onions that have been browned in butter or olive oil, and then you add some pinhead oatmeal and leave the lot to cook until the oats are slightly toasted. Season to taste. Voila! If you’re trying to imagine the taste, it is something like an onion stuffing (or at least, how a vegetarian might imagine stuffing to taste…). If you’re wondering what pinhead oatmeal is, it is the stuff that looks like little grains of oats, rather than the big, fat flakes. I don’t think there is any reason you could not use rolled oats, but don’t try to use oatmeal or oat flour, as they are too fine.

skirlie1
I’ve tried to find out more about skirlie, but this seems to be one of those traditional Scottish dishes that doesn’t really have a lot to say for itself. No links to the Jacobites, no links to Robert the Bruce, and not (as far as I’ve seen) a favourite of Queen Victoria during her visits to Balmoral. This just seems to be a good, honest, traditional recipe, and that’s that! If you’ve got any secret knowledge, please do share! What I was able to find out is that skirlie is traditionally made with beef dripping as the fat to brown the onions, so if that’s your thing, you might want to have a go for a more “authentic” flavour. I think butter works well instead, but of course you can go for a completely vegan option by using olive oil.

This really does have the flavour of a very traditional dish, but for its simplicity, it really packs a flavour punch. To make this well, I think there are a few secrets: first, get the onions really cook down slowly until they are nicely browned, which can mean taking the time to get them cook for as long as you can on a very gentle heat. Next, let the oatmeal cook for quite a while, so that you develop some “nuttiness” in there. Finally, get a little creative with the flavours. You’ll need to add some salt, but this also benefits from some black pepper and aromatic herbs. One version I’ve seen uses generous amounts of fresh thyme and lemon zest, which makes this into a very aromatic, fresh-tasting dish.

There is, however, one way in which my version of skirlie really veers away from more traditional recipes. All the versions I was able to find told me to add the oats to the onions, and cook the lot, job done. However, I tried this and found the resulting skirlie to be a bit too dry for my liking. This would be fine if you’re serving it alongside something with a lot of sauce, or plan to mix it into mashed potato for some added flavour and crunch, but on its own, I was not convinced. The answer was simple – just add some water at the end of the cooking time, then keep cooking. It will initially boil up and thicken, looking a bit like porridge (at which point you think “oh no, porridge for dinner!”), but keep cooking and it will dry out a bit, but it will turn fluffy and the oats will be slightly tender. The end result is something with a texture a bit like brown rice.

To serve this, I think it really is best as a side dish, to provide a bit of variety from rice or mashed potato (or as I say – mix it into the potato!). You can also add other vegetables, such as mashed carrot or swede, or even some pan-fried spinach or kale for a properly healthy dish. Yes, it contains butter, but all those oats have to be doing you some good!

skirlie2

To make Skirlie (serves 4 as a side disk):

• 2 large onions or 6 shallots
• 40g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 150g pinhead oatmeal
• 1 lemon, zest only
• aromatic herbs (thyme works well here)
• salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• water

1. Peel the onions/shallots, and roughly chop. As the oats are fairly fine, you want the onions to add some texture.

2. Put the butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Heat until the butter melts, then add the onions/shallots and fry over a medium heat until they have a good brown colour.

3. Add the pinhead oatmeal and lemon zest, plus herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently – the oats should start to brown, but should not burn!

4. Optional. Add some water to the mixture – it will thicken initially, but keep cooking until it starts to look try. Try the oatmeal – if you prefer it to be softer, add more water and keep cooking until you get the desired consistency.

8 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury, Scottish Food

Shredded Sprout Salad

Ooof, still feeling the effects of Christmas and New Year? Even if you’re not into celebrating in a big way, January often comes as a relief when there is just generally less food, drink and sweets on offer. I kind of feel that I don’t really want to go near a spiced cookie for quite some time! At home we’re not doing anything too radical, other than an “eat less rubbish” drive. Everything in moderation and such like.

Well, this salad is a bit of an antidote to all that rich food. It’s actually my preferred way of serving Brussels sprouts, and is really very simple. Rather than trying to boil them, then cooking them too long and ending up with grey mush, you just leave them raw. Then it’s simply a case of shredding them finely, adding some nuts and soft cheese or thick yoghurt, dressing the lot and you’re done.

sproutsalad1
If you’re thinking that raw sprouts aren’t really your thing, try one – they’ve actually slightly sweet, with a mild flavour. Not a hint of cabbage!  I’ve matched them with some tangy goat’s cheese, and then a selection of nuts and seeds. I use whatever nuts I have to hand, usually hazelnuts, but here I’ve used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds, all of them toasted to bring out their flavour. And finally, the dressing is a simply mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice, which makes the whole dish taste really fresh.

There really is not much mystery to making this salad, other than making sure you shred the sprouts finely. This means that you can sort of fluff the greens up, so that everything mixes well. If the sprouts are too large, the nuts, cheese and dressing will stay separate. Other than that, it’s a case of having as much or as little of each part as you see fit. Personally, I would major on the toasted nuts and goat’s cheese, but that’s just my preference.

To serve this, I think it looks best on a flat plate piled up high rather than in a bowl. Given that you’ve got that wonderful green-yellow colour of the sprouts, a dark plate is best for dramatic effect (even it I’ve used a white one for my pictures!).

sproutsalad2
So there we have it – a bit of a healthy start to 2015!

To make Shredded Sprout Salad:

For the salad

• Brussels sprouts
• nuts and seeds (I used almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds)
• soft goat’s cheese

For the dressing

• 1 lemon, zest and juice
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Toast the nuts in the oven. Allow to cool and chop roughly.

2. Trim the sprouts and remove any bad leaves from the outside. Finely shred them.

3. Make the dressing – add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt to a jam jar and shake vigorously.

4. Make the salad – sprinkle half the sprouts on a plate, then half the chopped nuts and seeds. Drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add the rest of the sprouts, the rest of the nuts and seeds, then scatter chunks of the goat’s cheese on top with half an eye on coming up with something that looks a bit artistic. Finish with the rest of the dressing.

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury, Uncategorized

Papas Arrugadas

I’ve had a bit of a blogging hiatus since Christmas, as things have been pretty hectic. Sure, it was a shock to they system to go back to work, but life also has a habit of throwing a few random shocks and surprises too, and the last thing I felt like was getting adventurous in the kitchen.

Anyway, time to change all that! While this is the time of the year that I normally like to feature some Scottish recipes in honour of the celebration of the national poet Robbie Burns, I’m going to break with tradition and have a bash at something I ate rather a lot of on holiday last year on Gran Canaria. This is called papas arrugadas which roughly translates as “small wrinkly potatoes”, of which more later.

Below is a little selection of my pictures giving you a bit of a flavour of what the island is like – mountainous, sunny and warm, even in the early days of winter. The capital, Las Palmas, has a fantastic stretch of beach with strange, black sand and fantastic sunsets, while the days brought trips to inland villages with ancient churches, botanical gardens and, by pure coincidence, a rum distillery in Arucas (selling superb rum and rum/honey liqueur). Yes, this is an island that seems to have pretty much everything. Inland, the terrain gets very hilly very quickly, and you pretty quickly realise that the description of Gran Canaria as a mid-continent is no exaggeration. While the Canary Islands are geographically party of Africa, culturally they are very Spanish, but they also reflect their position as a trade centre with various influences passing through over the years. Oh, and did I mention all that glorious sun in the middle of winter? It made the chilly streets of Britain seem so far away.

GranCanaria7

GranCanaria5

GranCanaria9

GranCanaria10

GranCanaria11

GranCanaria1

GranCanaria2

GranCanaria4  GranCanaria6

GranCanaria3

GranCanaria8

So back to the food…what are these papas arrugadas things? Well, they are about one of the simplest things you could every want to make as a snack with drinks. Take some small potatoes and boil them in very salty water – as a rule of thumb, it should be so salty that the potatoes float! That said, I chickened out and added just one tablespoon of salt to the cooking water for my bowl of spuds – I like savoury, but I’m not a salt fiend. Once cooked, you drain them, pop them back in the pan on a very low heat, and as the remaining water evaporates, you are left with a salty crust on the surface of the potatoes, giving them a frosty and wrinkled appearance. They are then served with a sauce, traditionally mojo rojo, made with peppers and olive oil. That’s it. Really, it’s that simple!

In the interests of full disclosure, it’s probably worth pointing out that you really need to enjoy salt if you’re going to make this – it packs quite a punch, so I think it’s best served with other dishes that are much fresher, like tomatoes, salads or mild cheese. Incidentally, there is also a fantastic local cheese on Gran Canaria calles queso de flor which is made with goat’s milk and milk from the cardoon flower, a thistle-like plant related to the artichoke. This cheese has an unusual smokey flavour which makes a nice partner to the papas. Yes, we’re all about healthy eating at the moment!

papas3

Traditionally this dish was apparently made with sea water, so it was quite easy to get a very salty finish on these spuds. This also makes sense when you understand the geography of the Canary Islands. These are not places where fresh water is in over-abundance. Instead, they rely on rain or passing clouds (in the case of the latter, water collects on trees inland and drips slowly down into the ground). Gran Canaria is not exactly a desert, but it did strike me as the sort of place that you’d prefer not to waste water if you had the choice. I did see my fair share of passing showers during my visit, but they never lasted for more than a few minutes, and being out in the middle of the ocean, the weather changed incredibly quickly.

Now, I have to fess up that I didn’t actually make the sauce to go with these papas, preferring instead to stock up with some in a local deli during my holiday. There were actually loads of foody treats that I was able to pick up, and in addition to the mojo and the cheese (and the quince paste, and the fig paste, and the sugared pine nuts, and the pastels de gloria, and the palm sugar treacle…)  there is a tasty spread called bienmesabe made from egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, lemon zest and cinnamon. This is originally an Arabic dessert, but if offered all over Gran Canaria as a dessert. Delicious on ice cream or spread thickly on bread at breakfast. Yup, yet more tips for healthy living today!

papas2

If you’re keen to make your own mojo rojo then aim for a spicy, but fairly thick and smooth sauce. I would suggest a few cloves of garlic, a couple of hot chilis, a spoon of paprika, a couple of spoons of vinegar, plus olive oil and salt to taste. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might also want to throw in some other spices like fennel or cumin. Make sure everything is blended to a smooth paste so that it coats to the potatoes when you dip them in. As long as you use plenty of oil, you could make this sort of sauce and store it in the fridge for quite some time, so perfect as a quick snack to impress guests when you’re knocking back some Spanish wine on a warm evening. Now all I need is…a warm evening to enjoy my back garden! The first snowdrops are starting to peek out of the soil, so hopefully we’ll be enjoying warmer days soon.

papas1

And there you have it – a quick little recipe that can be pulled together in less than 20 minutes to impress hungry dinner guests!

To make papas arrugadas (makes one bowl):

• 225g / 8oz very small potatoes
• boiling water
• salt

1. Put the potatoes into a saucepan. Cover with boiling water and add either (1) add enough salt until then potatoes float, or (2) add one tablespoon of salt.

2. Boil the potatoes until soft – around 15 minutes, until you can insert a knife easily.

3. Drain the potatoes, then return to the pan. Place on a low heat, shaking frequently, until all the water has evaporated and the potatoes have a salty crust.

4. Transfer to a bowl and serve hot with dipping sauce.

Worth making? Of course! Who doesn’t love potatoes with sauce?

3 Comments

Filed under Savoury

Spiced Pumpkin (Savoury) Muffins

Halloween is nearly upon us again, and just as night follows day, food blogs across the world are making things using pumpkin.

Never one to ignore an obvious trend, I’m doing likewise, but not for me the sweetness of pumpkin pies, ice-cream or cupcakes. And, while we’re on the topic, something I just really do not get is the new phenomenon in the UK, the sudden appearance of pumpkin spice lattes. I’m sure they are delicious, but I like coffee that tastes like coffee, and prefer any extra hit sweetness and spices to come in biscuit form. I mean, does it even include pumpkin flavour? Or is it just the spices? Well, I guess it will just remain a mystery to me.

Forsaking sweetness, I’ve opted instead for something savoury. Spiced pumpkin muffins, not unlike a savoury cake I made a while ago, with roasted pumpkin, various seeds, cheese and spices. In a bit of a nod to pumpkin pie, I’ve added a dash of allspice to give it extra flavour, so when you combine it with strong savoury flavours like Parmesan and dried tomatoes, it really is very different and absolutely delicious.

pumpkin_muffin2

pumpkin_muffin

I made these muffins with red kabocha squash, which is ideal. It looks a lot like a traditional pumpkin, but it has bright orange, sweet flesh. This really matters, because the pumpkins you see for carving into lanterns can end up a bit watery and pale-looking. Kabocha stays bright and firm. I cooked it by roasting it with a drizzle of honey and some pumpkin oil, so it developed its sweetness further and took on a slight nutty flavour too.

The list of ingredients on these muffins looks rather long, but it is actually a doddle to make. It is the traditional muffin method – mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, and the dry in another. The just mix, spoon and bake. The result is really quite delicious – the sweet pumpkin, the spices and the strong savoury flavour from the cheese and the tomatoes. The spices can be customised according to taste, but I think the mixture of dried herbs, turmeric and allspice is great.

Now all we have to do is sit back and ride out the mega-storm that is brewing off the south-west coast of Britain. It’s all predicted to be chaos tomorrow morning…well, at least I’ve got enough to eat in the meantime!

To make pumpkin muffins (makes 15):

• 50g olive oil
• 110g sour cream
• 275ml milk
• 2 medium eggs
• 150g self-raising flour
• 150g wholemeal flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 50g Parmesan, grated
• 25g pistachios, chopped
• 2 sun-dried tomatoes, finely sliced
• 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
• 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
• 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
• 1 teaspoon dried herbs
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 200g chopped cooked pumpkin
• pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and grated Parmesan, to decorate

1. Line two muffin trays. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

2. In a bowl, mix the olive oil, sour cream, milk and eggs until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine all the other ingredients until well mixed. Add the liquid ingredients, and mix quickly until just combined – don’t worry if there are little lumps, it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

4. Add two tablespoons of mixture to each muffin case. Top each muffin with a few pumpkin and sunflower seeds and a sprinkling of cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen.

15 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Aubergine Pasta

When I was younger, I was never really a fan of aubergines. In my student days, I started to experiment with them, and while I was always aware that aubergines mop up oil like a sponge, I still always ended up with something greasy and, well, just not that appealing. I probably made the novice error of adding more and more oil as the aubergine was cooking. Yes, this meant that I endured many, many meals involving badly-cooked aubergine with too much oil served pasta, with salt, pepper and spices seeking to mask the horror that I had cooked up.

These days, however, me and the aubergine have made up and get along just fine. I love them smoked and made into salads or baked and turned into baba ganoush (even if they’ve been known to explode all over the inside of my oven), but most recently I’ve been making lots and lots of this simple aubergine and tomato sauce. Very easy, very delicious and fantastic with pasta.

aubergine_sauce1

This recipe really is sheer simplicity. Just chop the aubergine into small cubes, then put into a pan with some olive oil and salt. At first, all the oil is soaked up, and you think that nothing will happen when you cook it. But be patient, and the  aubergine transforms into something browned, soft and delicious. The flavour is rounded out with some tomatoes and herbs, and that’s about it. This is great on pasta, cannelloni, polenta, gnocchi…with chillier days, that’s the sort of stuff we like!

aubergine_sauce2

To make aubergine sauce (enough to serve 4):

• 2 medium aubergines
• 50ml olive oil
• salt, to taste
• 4 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• sugar, to taste
• pinch of chili powder
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Cut the aubergines into 1 cm (1/2 inch) chunks. Put into a large saucepan with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Cook on a medium heat until the aubergine is soft and it is starting to brown, around 15 minutes (At first, the aubergine will soak up all the oil, but keep heating it and it will release the oil and cook down).

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and adjust the seasoning if needed. Leave to simmer on a low heat until the sauce has reduced down. Just before serving, adjust with a little water and/or olive oil if needed (this sauce can be made ahead and reheated at the last minute).

Worth making? I reckon so – I’ve probably made this four times in the last three weeks!

15 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Polenta Chips

Yay, Autumn is well and truly here! On the plus side, there its lots of fruit about for jamming (more of which soon), but then there have also been endless conversations with friends and colleagues about whether the weather means it is time to put on the heating. This is rather ridiculous, given we were all sweltering in a heatwave a few weeks ago. Personally, I’m going to maintain an iron will and shall refuse to touch the radiators until the first of October. Even then, I’ll hold out for as long as the cats can stand it!

The change in temperature has, however, given me the perfect opportunity to try some of the more, ahm, “robust” recipe ideas that I have on my try-at-some-point list, which tend to be those that are made from lots of wheat, potatoes or corn (or some combination of all three). This is just one of those recipes. For these are chips (or fries if you must) but made from polenta rather than potatoes. And you know what? The end product actually looks like a pretty good substitute for their potato-based cousins! Golden and crisp!

PolentaChips2

I first remember eating these style of chips years ago, but they were more like deep-fried bars of polenta and a bit of a novelty in posher pubs. Then, more recently, this dish has started to pop up again, but in the guise of thin, match-stick style bars of golden deliciousness, and infused with all manner of herbs and spices and served with a variety of sauces for dipping (and I’ve enjoyed them with everything from tasty mayonnaise to rather dubious overly-sweet fruity chutneys).

So, how hard could it be to make them at home? I mean, it’s just sweetcorn, right? As it turns out, these chips are actually incredibly simple. Super-simple. You just make a batch of polenta, leave it to set in a tray, then slice into fingers and bake in the oven. That’s it.

For the polenta mixture, it was just a case of mixing the polenta meal, vegetable stock, chili paste and herbs, plus a dash of olive oil (the olive oil is essential, so that they crisp up when you bake them later). This really allows you to go to town on flavours. While I used herbes de provence you could just as easily go for paprika, spiced such as cumin or curry powder, or even cheese. The only thing to keen an eye on is the level of salt, either on its own or from the stock used to make the polenta. As the baking process will drive a lot of moisture from the polenta, the flavour will become more concentrated, so you should aim to slightly under-season the mixture. And hey, these things are chips – if you need to add more salt, just sprinkle it on them at the end. Even at that stage you can get creative, grinding fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme with salt to add some extra flavour. OK, clearly we’re dangerously close to gastro-pub territory here…

Now, I would love to be able to tell you that I made these flawlessly first time. But…when it came to baking these bad boys, I had to go up a bit of a learning curve. I thought I would be really smart and spread them out on greaseproof paper that was coated in a little olive oil. No sticking here, I thought! However, I had completely failed to think about the fact that during baking, there would be a lot of water driven out of the polenta. The result? The chips got rather stuck to the paper, and said paper started to fall apart thanks to all that steam.

Having removed the tray from the oven, separated the chips and the paper (the oil did its job in the end), then lined the tray with a drizzle of olive oil and put the whole lot back into the oven, things then proceeded perfectly. I was impressed that, given just how little oil was involved, the chips went from the pale yellow of the polenta to a rich, toasted shade of gold and acquired a good, crisp snap and decent crunch. They were just delicious served up with mayonnaise, beer and not much else.

PolentaChips1

I’ve raved about how easy these chips are to make…so how to they taste? I was pretty much blown away by the end result. The heat from the chili and the herbs is still there, but what had been essentially soft sticks of creamed corn had been transformed into something crisp and with a toasted, almost nutty flavour. The flavour was not unlike those giant fried corn seeds you get in tapas bars, and very more-ish.

These chips make a great alternative to “normal” chips with dinner, and have the bonus of remaining very crisp even as the cool. In fact, you can happily leave them to cool down completely, and then serve them as a snack with drinks. And, given I’m going through a rather busy patch at work, you can even (dare I say it) reheat them rather successfully the next day. All that – from corn!

To make polenta chips (serves 2, or 1 if being greedy…)

• 150g polenta meal
• 600ml water
• vegetable stock
• 2 teaspoons dried herbs
• chili paste, to taste
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking tray

1. Cook the polenta according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In my case – bring the water to the boil, then add the polenta (stirring all the time), add the rest of the ingredients and cook over a very low heat until the grains are soft.

2. In the meantime, line a tray with cling film. Pour the cooked polenta into the tray, then smooth the top (use the back of an oiled spoon) and cover with more cling film. Leave until completely cold and firm – overnight is fine.

3. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). Drizzle a baking tray with a little olive oil.

4. Remove the slab of polenta from the cling film, and use a sharp knife to cut into chips (thin sticks, fat chips, crinkle-cut…). Spread the chips on the baking tray, and pop into the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes until crisp and golden. You may need to remove them from the oven from time to time to shake them up and get an even colour.

Worth making? These chips are amazing. Super-crisp and packed with flavour. If potato allergy were a thing, then these would be your saviour!

18 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Tabbouleh

I’m probably veering into dangerous territory here, by making a classic Middle Eastern dish that has so many “correct” versions. If you’ve got opinions, then great, leave a comment! I’m always happy to work towards perfection. But when it comes to tabbouleh, what is pretty clear is that this should be first and foremost a parley salad, and on that point, I’m not keen to be persuaded otherwise. How you make it…well, this is where it’s all up to you.

tabbouleh

Now, I say that this should be a parsley salad, but all too often you find this tends to be served up as a large cous cous dish with some parley strewn through it. Wrong. It’s all about parsley, with a few goodies thrown in there for flavour and texture. And it’s not cous cous that you use, but bulgar wheat.

My approach starts with the “low effort” route, beginning with the dressing. This involves little more than olive oil, lemon juice, seasoning and a little chopped tomato and red onion, which is left with a few spoons of uncooked bulgar wheat. Easy to do the night before, so you can leave it in the fridge to sit overnight. This is the easy bit.

The other part of making tabbouleh is something that can be tedious – picking all those leaves off some bunches of parsley. It might take some time, but it is the perfect job for when you’re listening to a radio play and are not in a hurry. However, if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t like to wait, then you could just chop the parsley as is, stalks and all, and just tell your guests “this is the traditional way to make it“. However, I prefer to pick the leaves off in the patient way, and them leave them pretty much whole in the salad as I like the shape they give the salad. You can, of course, chop up the leaves if you like. Then, when you’re ready to serve, dress the parsley with the sauce (if you’re making ahead of time, wait until the last moment before mixing everything).

If you make this, it sort of goes without saying that you need to really like parsley. Done in this way, tabbouleh makes an excellent side dish – add some grilled halloumi, some hummus, toasted pitta and some sliced tomatoes, and you’ve got a (fairly) quick and delicious light lunch for a summer’s day.

To make tabbouleh (a side dish for 4):

• 2 large tablespoons bulgar wheat
• 1 lemon, juice only
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped
• 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
• salt
• freshly ground black pepper

• 2 bunches of flat leaf parsley
• 8 mint leaves, shredded

1. Soak the bulgar wheat in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain.

2. Mix the bulgar wheat, olive oil, lemon, tomatoes and red onion in a bowl. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Leave to sit for at least an hour or overnight, until the bulgar what is soft and the dressing a little thicker.

3. Prepare the parsley – remove the leaves from the stalks. Chop roughly if you want a finer texture (use a big, sharp knife, and try to keep the parsley fairly dry – I prefer to keep the leaves whole). Add the dressing and shredded mint, toss and transfer to a serving dish.

Worth making? Yes – this is a light, fresh salad. Great as part of a summer lunch or dinner.

5 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Ajo Blanco

Do you remember the first time? By which I mean the first time you tried certain foods. There are a lot of things (Cake! Chips! Pasta!) that have just always been there, but then there are foods that I very firmly do remember trying for the first time. I can point to a family holiday to Port de Pollença on the north side of Mallorca as the first time I tried gazpacho. Sachertorte was at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Kanelbullar firs experienced in Stockholm’s Old Town. These are all pleasant memories as I liked the thing I was trying. You can probably guess where I am going with this…

Anyway, my first experience of ajo blanco was all rather different. It’s a cold Spanish soup, made with almonds and garlic, served with green grapes and olive oil. Sounds nice and refreshing, yes? Perfect in hot weather perhaps?

ajoblanco2

Well, the first time I tried ajo blanco is still seared into my memory in vivid detail. I was at a Spanish restaurant somewhere on the fringes of Shoreditch, the distinctly non-latin sounding Eyre Brothers. Looked great, friendly service, and then we came to order. Bread, olive oil, olives all consumed with glee, and then it came to choosing what to eat. While Spanish food has a reputation as being very meaty (and thus not very veggie-friendly), I don’t find this to be the case. There is usually enough in terms of vegetables, bread and cheese to keep me happy.

Anyway, on this occasion, they were serving ajo blanco which I remember being described as an almond soup with garlic. As I’d never seen it before, I thought I should take the plunge. I mean – it’s cold soup, how bad could it ever be?

Well, I expected some garlic, but this stuff took your breath away, almost literally. Pleasantly creamy to begin with, it broke down in the mouth within seconds into pure, pungent garlic, complete with an unpleasant burning sensation on the tongue and throat. Now, I like garlic, but lots of the raw stuff can be just horrible, which tends to lead to garlic oil seeping from every pore. I made it half-way through before giving up, but by this point, the meal was spoiled. The garlic had overpowered everything else. For the rest of the meal, all I could taste was garlic. Patatas bravas? No, garlic. Green salad? No, garlic. Frozen turrón dessert? Nope, still the all-pervading taste of garlic. Yes, I did mention to the staff that the soup was too strong, and one of the serving ladies was very sympathetic, but this little episode did put me off ajo blanco for years.

That is, until yesterday. I thought I would try making it myself as part of my attempts to make refreshing summer meals.

ajoblanco1

So I got my little mixer ready, and had a little think. Would I use garlic this time? Or more…dare I use garlic?

Well, I reasoned that the use of garlic was traditional, so it just had to go in there, somehow. Then I remembered a Pho soup I had made where garlic was added to the stock, and at the end of cooking, it was soft, mild and not pungent at all. This seemed like the perfect solution to my garlic issue, and so I blanched some cloves for a few minutes. Job done – garlic flavour, not garlic nightmare. However, you might find this approach to be a little mild. It you’re still after a little more “zing” you might want to rub the bowl with a cut clove of raw garlic before adding the other ingredients. That should still ensure your guests take notice, without gasping throughout dinner.

ajoblanco4

The rest was a complete breeze – throw stale white bread, water, almonds, seasoning, garlic and olive oil into a blender and liquidise until everything is smooth and white. One little tweak that I did make was to add a handful of pine nuts. They give a little extra flavour, but also help to emulsify the soup and get a great texture.

Once made, all that remains to be done is to make sure the soup is completely chilled, then serve. The traditional way is with a drizzle of olive oil and some sliced green grapes. This might sound strange, but the combination of fresh, juicy grapes and the chilled, creamy ajo blanco is fantastic. It’s also not that common, so makes a nice change from gazpacho when you’re looking for a chilled soup as a starter when it’s pushing 33°C outside (yes, that’s how hot it got today in London!).

And with that – my fear of ajo blanco has been overcome!

ajoblanco3

To make Ajo Blanco (serves 4):

For the soup:

• 3 cloves garlic
• 150g whole almonds
• Handful of pine nuts
• 80g stale white rustic bread (crusts removed)
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 200ml water

To serve:

• olive oil
• 12 green grapes

1. Put the bread and water in a bowl. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.

2. Peel the garlic, slice in half and remove any green bits. Blanch for 3 minutes in a small pot of boiling water. Drain and leave to cool.

3. Skin the almonds – bring another pan of water to the boil, add the almonds and simmer for two minutes. Drain, and squeeze the almonds out of the skins (you can discard them – we only need the nuts!).

4. Put the garlic, bread, almonds, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and vinegar into a blender and blitz until very smooth. You may need to add more water to get the right consistency (think single cream). Pour into a large bowl and adjust the seasoning as needed – more oil, salt or vinegar according to taste. Cover the bowl and chill for at least two hours or overnight.

5. To serve, divide between four bowls. Slice the grapes in half and divide between the bowls, finishing with a drizzle of olive oil.

Worth making? Definitely! This is a really easy recipe to make, while the almonds and bread mean that it is light and fresh but still substantial.

22 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury