Archive for January, 2012

January 29, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Greens and Noodles with Citrus Broth

We have already documented our feelings about Nigel Slater’s TV series and, judging by the amount of people who find themselves reading this blog after searching for the words ‘Nigel Slater creepy’, then many of you are of a similar opinion. Poor soul.

He doesn’t always help himself, however. In a recent Guardian newspaper feature he advocated using fresh, lighter flavours to accompany an Asian-inflenced dish of greens, instead of ‘the dark, almost sinister spicing of the past’.

‘Sinister’? What, cumin? Ginger? C’mon Nige. Did you a recipe backwards and find some hidden meaning in it?

Well, it didn’t stop us from trying his suggestion, although we pimped the recipe by leaving out the fish sauce, adding a dessert spoon of tamarind paste and throwing in some oyster mushrooms and rice noodles for four minutes at the end to make a more substantial stew. And very nice it was too. Fiery, fresh and fragrant. And definitely not sinister in any way.

Nigel’s recipe is here.

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January 28, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Soup ‘Berbere’

What a cold winter’s night really needs, of course, is a warming bowl of nutritious soup. This one was made after a rummage through the fridge and kitchen cupboards. We had some sweet potato that wasn’t long for this world, a tin of chickpeas, an onion, spices… and that’s all you need.

Now, we’ve often made a sweet potato and chickpea soup, or a butternut squash and chickpea soup and, usually, we spice it up with a little chilli and some cumin. But I’m bored of it: the cumin so often overpowers if it’s the dominant spice… and this was the thought in my mind as my eyes set upon a tin of ready-mixed ‘Berbere’ spice (widely available, just like this here that we picked up in the supermarket).

Berbere refers to the Berber peoples of North Africa. I’ve always associated Berbere spices with Morocco, having visited that country, but a little research reveals that the mix of spices including chilli, cumin, coriander seed, fenugreek, cloves, allspice, ginger, cardamom, plus varying others, as well as the term Berbere, is recognisable in Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisines. The exact origin, and infinite variations, could no doubt be argued over for longer than it would take the IMF to do the right thing and cancel African debt, so let’s just say that it’s fiery, with some sweeter notes than you might get in Indian spice mixes.

To the soup: it’s one-pot stuff. In a large saucepan or stockpot, saute a finely chopped onion in a little olive oil for 5 minutes. Add a clove of finely chopped garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. While it’s cooking, peel two large-ish sweet potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks and add to the pot. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Next add one tin of chickpeas. Then add the Berbere spice mix. We added a heavily loaded dessert-spoonful. You might want to add less – it’ll be fine. Chilli addicts could also add one fresh red chilli. Stir in and then add around 500ml of vegetable stock – maybe a little more depending on the size of your potatoes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Take off the heat, leave to cool until lukewarm then blitz it with a hand blender. Don’t overdo it though, it’s best if the soup is a little coarse. Reheat, season with salt and pepper and serve, perhaps with some crusty bread.

It warms the cockles, this one.

January 23, 2012

Recipe: The perfect egg fried rice

A few days ago the Guardian newspaper offered up its advice on how to make the perfect egg fried rice. Glad to see it didn’t differ to much from our own here at ETP Towers – other than the non-addition of garlic. I think at the moment I’d also revise our version and go with the paper’s, although it’s a matter of personal taste. The newspaper’s recipe is here. X-ref with our own here.

January 23, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Bun Xa

Ah, I see you’re looking at the bun xa! Or perhaps that’s bunh xao, ben xao, benh xa or other variations of western spelling I’ve come across.

Bun xa is Ella’s favourite Vietnamese dish. Noodles, basically. Rice noodles. And in our case with a topping of fried tofu and salad, with a chilli dressing. It’s a dish that depends on both ‘mouth-feel’ and your nostrils: by which I mean that it should provide a range of textures in your mouth – not just mush – and both a blast of chilli and some fresh, subtle fragrance up your nose! Yep, it’s all about balance.

We’ve been making this dish for a couple of years, attempting to recreate the delightful version found in a favourite Vietnamese place on Kingsland Road, East London. But we’ve never managed to get it quite right… until now.

The difference this time? Sourcing ingredients from a local Asian food store, rather than trusting our supermarket’s ubiquitous brands. D’oh. Seriously, getting better quality tofu, authentic rice noodles, plus soy and rice wine vinegar – in place of the usual Blue Dragon, Amoy and Cauldron brands – really made a difference. The noodles didn’t turn to slop, the tofu crisped up nicely and the seasoning was deeper and more rounded.

So, how do you make it?

First, chop some firm tofu into bite-sized (finger-sized) pieces and fry in a single layer in a wide pan in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oil. Add a little soy sauce to the pan as well, but don’t overdo it. (Or marinate your tofu first, if you give yourself enough time). Cook the tofu gently, turning occasionally, until the tofu is golden on all sides. You can set this aside and reheat later if you need to.

While the tofu cooks, get that dressing done: chop a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, a couple of chillis (ahem, or more, y’know, perhaps) and add them to a small bowl. To the bowl then add a large splash of dark soy sauce and generous glug of rice wine vinegar. Next stir in a teaspoon of castor sugar until it dissolves. Taste. It should be fiery, sharp, fragrant and with a touch of sweetness. Remember, it won’t be this hot when it’s poured over your food. Make it as bold as you dare.

The rest is even easier. Plunge your fine rice noodles into a pan of boiling water, take off the heat and leave for around three minutes. Drain immediately then add a splash of soy sauce and a generous splash of rice wine vinegar to season them. Try and coat them well. Set aside with the lid covering them.

Quickly fry some button mushrooms, halved if they’re on the large side, then add them to the tofu pan. Shred some iceberg lettuce, finely slice two spring onions and coarsely chop some fresh coriander leaves.

Now assemble. In the bottom of your bowl place a portion of the noodles. On top of that comes the tofu and mushrooms. On top of that the ‘salad’ of lettuce, onion and herbs. Then, if you can get them in your Asian grocers, sprinkle some fried shallot flakes over the dish (we really find these add a savoury depth that’s very complementary – and yes, we’ve tried making the flakes at home but they tend to remain slightly greasy and wet whereas these are dry). Serve and let people pour the dressing over the top of the dish.

Some variations could include bean sprouts or shredded carrot in the salad. The main thing is that it is light and fresh. Chopped toasted peanuts could also be sprinkled over, as well as, or in place of, the dried shallot flakes.

Get the balance right and this is as fragrant and moreish a dish as you’ll ever have. If it was music you’d be wowed by it hitting every note on the scale. If it’s greasy, heavy or bland – and if there isn’t enough chilli, then something has gone wrong.

Practise this. It’s a tool for life. Honest.

January 16, 2012

Recipe: Smoked garlic soup with parsley pesto

We received a gift of some smoked garlic at Christmas – from the rather famous Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. It’s been ages since we’ve had any smoked garlic and quite frankly I couldn’t remember what we’d done with it in the past other that, well, enjoy it. For some reason I though a soup must be something in which its aromatic properties would hit the right note and, after a little internet search, I found this recipe here, from Gino D’Acampo, which is what we’ll be eating tomorrow evening.

January 12, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Beetroot risotto with lemon oil and goat’s cheese

Do you ever start to make a recipe and then realise you’re missing a vital ingredient? Only the other day I was busy assembling a meal of (Turkish vegetable casserole) Turlu Turlu when I remembered I had no tomatoes in the house in any shape or form. Which reminds me that ETP should feature that recipe at some point.

Well, this risotto recipe may look complete, but secreted within it is a similar story. It was meant to include elements of fennel (in the oil) and broad beans (adding colour and texture to the risotto). Oh dear. I can feel our old friend Denis Cotter, whose recipe we were stealing, shaking his head admonishingly.

But we persevered and, if you haven’t tried a beetroot risotto before, so should you. Here’s how:

The lemon oil was made by shaking olive oil with the zest and juice of a lemon in a jar. Easy – in effect a basic lemony dressing.

Beets are then boiled/simmered until tender (anywhere between 20-40 minutes, depending on size), drained, rinsed under cold water then peeled. They are then diced and roasted with a little olive oil and salt for 15 minutes. Don’t burn them – it’s easily done.

After 15 minutes, remove half the beets and, adding about a cup-full of vegetable stock or water, blend to a puree in a food processor and put it in a pan on the hob, adding enough extra stock to make the amount of risotto you’re cooking. Keep the stock hot. Continue to cook the remainder of the beets in the oven for 10 more minutes or so, until they begin to caramelise.

Now for the rice – and this really just becomes a standard risotto cooking method with a different type of stock. So, saute a couple of finely sliced shallots and 2 cloves of garlic in a little olive oil for 5 minutes. Add arborio risotto rice and ‘toast’ it in the pan for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add a small glass or red wine and cook for a further 5 minutes or so to ‘burn off’ the alcohol. Then start to add the beetroot stock, a ladle at a time. Keep going until the risotto is just tender. It should be pink too! When it’s done, stir in the caramelised beets and a little butter.

To serve, plate up the rice, scatter over some goats cheese and drizzle the lemon oil over.

Even if it wasn’t the recipe we had initially intended, it still worked – big flavours all round, from sweet beets to tangy goats cheese to perfumed lemon.

The prize goes to the best colour pink, along with the biggest flavours. The photo here doesn’t quite do ours justice – but I think another bash at the recipe could improve it. A magenta risotto, anyone?

January 11, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Cauliflower, green bean and tomato salad

After yesterday’s hearty plate of potato, something a little lighter – a nutritious, lightly warm winter salad.

I had the idea for this after half watching, and half remembering, a similar dish being made on a TV cookery programme. The essential ingredients are cauliflower and tomatoes, along with a warming dressing (for that read mustard). As a salad it felt right to add some greens – we added French beans. Broccoli could work, but might conflict in texture and shape with the cauliflower. Peppery rocket would make for a lighter, perhaps more summer salad. I could even be tempted to try some cucumber with this – especially in summer.

First step was to roughly chop some ripe tomatoes, season them with a little salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil, and set aside.

Next, make a quick dressing with some olive oil, a little sherry vinegar (white wine vinegar or lemon juice will suffice), a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a clove of finely chopped garlic.

Break the cauliflower into florets and steam until just tender (don’t for the love of veg overdo it). While the cauli is steaming, plunge some green beans into boiling water for around 4-5 minutes. That should be enough to just about cook them but leave them a little crunchy.

In a large salad bowl combine the cauliflower, beans and tomatoes. Pour the dressing over and mix well – it’s important to do this while the cooked veg is still warm. Finally, add a small handful of chopped coriander, spring onion or flat-leaf parsley and serve.

Feel free to experiment with the recipe. Just remember that the finished salad should have a bit of a crunch and a slight spiciness – almost as if it wanted to mature to be a piccalilli.

We had a big bowl of this as a main course, but it would be a good accompaniment to all kinds of pies, quiches and pasties etc etc. Happy eating.

January 10, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Ella’s Shepherdess Pie

Well, it might have been last night’s dinner; it certainly was recently and no doubt it soon will be again. When winter is here, a plate of filling, hot comfort food is a must. Ella’s go-to recipe is this Shepherdess Pie, which our friend over at rather non-veggie The Chilli Source site might call “a plate of sense”.

Sherpherdess Pie? A Shepherd’s Pie without the meat, of course. Over the years we’ve tried many savoury vegetarian options under the pillow of mashed potato and I think Ella’s recipe with Puy lentils is the best.

First, bring a pan of water or, preferably, vegetable stock to the boil and simmer enough Puy lentils to make a inch-deep layer in your oven dish/pie tin when cooked (they’ll take around 20-30 minutes and should retain a little nutty bite). As they’re simmering, finely chop a large onion and fry it in a little olive oil for 10 minutes.

Along with onion, we like to pimp the savouriness of the lentil base by adding a little bit of vegetable variation. So, dice a carrot, or a red pepper, or some button mushrooms – or all three and, like the onion, lightly fry in olive oil for 10 minutes.

Actually, you have some options here: the veg can be fried separately as above (best), or added in with the onion (okay) or you can even skip the frying bit and dump it in with the simmering lentils (lazy). They will all work, but the first option will provide the greatest differentiation between flavours.

When the lentils and veg are cooked, drain the lentils and mix them all together in the pan before spreading into the oven dish. Set aside.

Now for the mash. Do I need to explain mash? I hope not. But keep don’t make it too soggy or buttery – this isn’t a Michelin-star-abused side-dish.

Spread the mash over the lentil base and rough up the top slightly with a fork. Bake in the oven at 190 degrees for 40 minutes and, if you like, grate some Cheddar or Gruyere cheese over the top before returning to the oven for a final 10 minutes. The trick is to get a crisp, almost crusty top to the potato. It’s a texture thing.

Serve with seasonal greens.