Tag Archives: shallots

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!

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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.

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Mizuna Potato Salad

I was walking out the front door yesterday, and bumped into the lady who lives downstairs. She told me she had a glut of mizuna in the garden, and if I wanted some, I was welcome to it.

This is the same lady who had kindly offered me a selection of windfall pears last autumn. I had no idea what to do with those pears, but ended up with a lovely pear jelly. So I was not going to let the fact that I had no idea what mizuna was stand between me and an offer of free goodies. There is always something you can make with it, right? A few hours later, I found myself in her garden, scissors in hand, hacking away at the vegetable patch and avoiding some truly enormous insects that were hiding in there.

So…mizuna…what is it? A quick search on Google revealed it is Japanese and the name means “water greens”. It belongs to the brassica family, which was apparent from the fleshy stalks and sunny yellow flowers that topped the stalks. The flavour is hinted at by the alternative name of Japanese Mustard – it is a little like rocket, but the leaves I had were peppery with, indeed, a strong mustard taste, as well as a hearty “leafy” flavour. As you can see below, they also look rather attractive – young leaves are long, slim and elegant, and mature to large, serrated leaves with a purple tinge.

I started to look for some recipes to use up my haul, and quickly discovered that most recipes that call for mizuna seem to require the young stems, when the leaves are soft, feathery and tender. At this stage, they look like rocket leaves, and go well in salads and as a peppery garnish. However, the stems that I came to possess looked quite different. How come? Well, this is  bunch of mizuna that has enjoyed a mild British winter, then a brief burst of sunshine in March, before being soaked for about two months, and then getting a little more warmth in the last week. As such, it is less “soft, feathery and tender” and more like a triffid sitting out in the back garden, growing at an alarming rate.

So basically, I didn’t have the baby leaves, I had the grown-up plant, and this means the leaves are a little more “robust” in terms of flavour, making them better suited to cooked dishes. With this in mind, I came up with two recipes. One is the subject of today’s post, and you’ll just have to trust me on the other, and the fact that it was delicious.

This recipe is a simple German-style potato salad, with a little shredded mizuna added to the still-warm mixture and then letting it cool. While the mustard-like flavour of the mizuna leaves is strong, possibly even too strong on its own, it mellows with soft new potatoes and olive oil. I did not add any mustard to the sauce, so as you bite into the potatoes, the mizuna leaves add a little bite and piquancy. All in all, a very tasty way to use up these leaves.

Now, in case you are wondering what else I made with my robust and fiery-tasting leaves, they went into a mizuna and tofu stir-fry with a black-bean and chilli sauce. Peppery, spicy, hot and delicious!

To make mizuna potato salad:

• 750g new potatoes
• 40g (two handfuls) mizuna leaves
• 2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion
• 2 tablespoons vinegar
• 6 tablespoons oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoons ground pepper
• pinch of sugar

Put the potatoes into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 15 minutes, until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

In the meantime, peel and finely chop the shallots. Wash and shred the mizuna leaves.

Now prepare the dressing – put the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and sugar into a jam jar, and shake vigorously until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Cut the still-warm potatoes into chunks and put into a salad bowl. Add the shallots, mizuna and dressing, and toss gently. Serve while still warm, or allow to cool.

Worth making? This is a simple but tasty recipe and is a great way to use up greens that might otherwise to too strong to eat in a salad.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury