Posts tagged ‘chilli’

August 1, 2012

Last night’s dinner: a Moroccan chickpea stew

I’ve touched on this story before, but a few years ago Ella and I were in Marseille for my birthday. For lunch we headed to an authentic (read ‘basic’) little Moroccan restaurant near the old port. We’d heard rumours that their chickpea stew was rather excellent and it was prominent on the menu. Ella chose it and wished she hadn’t. Down in the rich depths of spicy sauce was something unpleasant: a large lump of lamb. It wasn’t the most fortuitous of days for Ella: a harbourside gull also gifted her a ‘lucky’ present on her head.

Thankfully, the experience hasn’t scarred her and we’ve not been put off chickpea stews. But then, how could we be? We make variations on them every few months. Indeed, there’s one we tried earlier here. That was my version. This is Ella’s and it bears much closer comparison with the heady, rich, deeply flavoured and rather unctuous bowl served up in Marseille – minus the ropey ruminant. In my book, Ella’s is better than my own version, though some might prefer the lighter one we featured earlier. Try this though, it’s lovely.

So, to the stove:

For a couple of big portions: finely chop one medium onion and fry in a little olive oil on a medium heat in a large stockpot or saucepan. As the onion starts to turn golden, add 2 small or 1 large bell peppers, cut into strips no wider than 1cm.

When the onions and peppers have softened add the dried spices: a dessert spoonful of cinnamon, a teaspoonful of paprika, a little ground chilli, and a dessert spoon of ground cumin. It might sound like a lot of spices, but it’ll take it.

Stir in the spices to coat the veg. As they soak into the softened veg and oil they will create a kind of paste. To this add a good squeeze of tomato puree. Stir again and ‘cook out’ the paste, heating it through in the pan for another five minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn.

Next, add a large handful of small waxy potatoes, halved or quartered so that they’re chestnut sized. Then add two tins of chickpeas. Stir in the potatoes and chickpeas and then add around 750ml of vegetable stock – enough that the liquid comes a couple of centimetres or so above the vegetables. Bring the stew to a boil then simmer for around 30 minutes until it has reduced and thickened a little. The longer you cook it the better it will get, so leave it longer if you like but don’t let it get too thick.

As it’s cooking, add a good dessert spoonful of dried mint. Season with salt and pepper and add some more cinnamon, cumin and mint if you think it needs it. Remember, a richly aromatic, deeply spiced stew is the intention.

And that’s it – except for for the vital topping of chilli sauce: with a large mortar and pestle grind up a clove of garlic, a few fresh red chillis and a dash of cinnamon together with a little olive oil until you create a fiery sauce. Serve this at the table alongside the soup and add as much as you dare.

I could eat this every day and the world would be a little bit of a better place.

Advertisements
May 13, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Chilli-marinated tofu with coconut greens and rice

What a tasty Saturday night treat! And it was made after an afternoon at a local festival fundraiser at which ‘drink was taken’. Which is a way of saying it wasn’t that difficult to make. Think of it as a perked-up veggie Thai green curry, in fact an easier one, with the ingredients mostly coming together at the end rather than all being cooked sloppily together in a big bowl. Caring for ingredients individually, as ever, can really pay dividends.

Serves 2.

First, the tofu. Take a block of firm tofu (ours was Cauldron brand on this occasion), drain it and place it in a shallow bowl. Splash some dark soy sauce over it. Chop some fresh chilli (as much as you like) and a clove of garlic and sprinkle over the top of the tofu as well, before massaging the mixture into the tofu a little, gentling turning the tofu over to ensure it gets fully coated in the marinade. Leave for 20 minutes.

After marinating, cut the tofu across its width into ‘steaks’ 1cm thick. Try and coat each steak in the marinade without breaking them – careful now! Then heat a little sesame oil in a large frying pan and add the tofu steaks, reserving as much marinade as possible for later. On a high-ish heat the tofu will begin to colour and crisp up on the outside after around 7 minutes or so. When slightly crisped and golden on one side, turn the steaks over. Don’t worry if they look a little blackened, but don’t let the edges turn to charcoal. When golden on both sides they steaks can continue to sit happily on the heat at the lowest setting while the rest of the dish is made. Just keep a check of them though. Ours, pictured above, are black from the soy sauce, not from burning.

Now for the greens. In a large wok or frying pan, add a tin of coconut milk. Heat through on a medium heat. Add a teaspoon of turmeric, a stalk of lemongrass, snapped in the middle to help release the flavour and a 2.5cm piece of grated fresh ginger. Stir and bring to a soft simmer.

Chop one large or two small heads of pak choi, top and tail some French beans and add to the sauce. Alternatively you could add some sprouting broccoli or even asparagus – but the contrast between soft leaves and crunchy beans is rather nice. Cook through for 5 minutes, until the veg has softened ever so slightly and the sauce has reduced a little. Fish out the lemongrass.

Now, back to the tofu: pour the remainder of the marinade over the tofu and cook for 2 more minutes.

Serve with the tofu on top, the coconut veg underneath, and a bed of nutty brown rice at the bottom. Oh, and a squeeze of lime will work a treat as well.

We really liked this and hope you do too.

February 18, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Smoked garlic and cheese potato cakes with chilli greens

You might not guess it from the recipe title, but this was one of those meals inspired by using up some old veg and bits and pieces in the fridge. It can also be seen as mash and greens – with bells on.

For the potato cakes, steam some floury potatoes until tender (about 3 medium-sized potatoes per person), mash them and leave them to cool. While they’re cooling, saute some finely sliced shallots (1 per person) and some finely chopped smoked garlic (2 cloves per person) in a little olive oil for around 5 minutes, until soft but not browned. When the mash is cool, transfer it to a large mixing bowl and mix in the shallots and garlic. Add 1 finely chopped spring onion, per person, to the mash.

The mash now needs to be worked up into an almost doughy consistency and be flavoured with cheese. Break 1 egg per person into the mash and stir in. The mash will become slightly gooey. Now, grate 50g per person of parmesan into the mash and mix well. Next, a little at a time, sprinkle some plain flour into the bowl and mix in. Do this until the flour is absorbed and distributed evenly. It will dry the mix out a little. The idea is to create a consistency that can be easily formed into a cake or pattie – without being a slop, and without crumbling at all.

With your hands, shape the mash into patties/cakes about 3 inches across and an inch deep. Then fry them in a little olive oil in a wide frying pan on a medium heat, turning after around 5 minutes, until they become golden on both sides.

We served the cakes with some greens – blanching some sprouting broccoli and cavolo nero for 4 minutes in boiling water, then frying it in olive oil with a sprinkle of fresh red chilli and a chopped, deseeded tomato. A tangy, yoghurt-based sauce, or tomato salsa would also add a little something.

February 6, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweetcorn and chickpea soup with greens and a chilli-soy salsa

Sweetcorn; chickpeas; kale. Should they go together? A chilli-soy salsa? It’s that last piece of description that gives away the some geography to this soup: it’s an Asian, perhaps Thai or Indonesian-influenced concoction and the background note under the combination of leaves, kernels and legumes is a spicy coconut broth. The salsa – well, though the word might shout Mexico and link to the sweetcorn, it’s a thoroughly Asian-influenced topping too. Let’s make it…

For the salsa we finely diced one red pepper, finely sliced two spring onions and a finely chopped red chilli (or two). Combine these together. Next, toast a handful of sunflower seeds in a dry frying pan for 5-10 minutes, tossing them occasionally and taking care not to burn them. When they’ve started to turn golden take them off the heat and splash some soy sauce over them. They’ll become slightly sticky. Leave to cool and then stir into the salsa. Finally roughly chop a handful of coriander leaves and add to the salsa.

The soup is something of a fusion of West and East but the ingredients complement each other perfectly and are often found together in varying combinations around the world. The kale could be Savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, spring greens, spinach or even pak choi. We had some kale left, so that’s what went in the pot – and it’s great with chickpeas.

First, make a ‘curry’ paste: grate a 1-inch piece of ginger, finely slice three cloves of garlic and three medium shallotts. Finely slice two green chillies (strength to your licking) and two sticks of fresh lemongrass. Place all these ingredients in the jug of a food processor/blender. Now add 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground turmeric. Add half a cup of water and blend to get a smooth, thick sauce.

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil and add the curry sauce, cooking it for five minutes – you should smell the aromas. Then add a medium-sized tin of sweetcorn kernels, a tin of chickpeas and a tin of coconut milk. Stir. Then add 600ml of vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so then add some handfuls of roughly chopped greens. Cook for 5 minutes more if you’re using soft greens (spinach etc) or 10 minutes if you’re using tougher cabbage or kale etc.

Check the seasoning and serve, topping the bowl with a good spoonful of salsa and a squeeze of lime.

February 1, 2012

Recipe: Jamie Oliver’s Ribollita

It’s such a cold day here in the south east, as I’m sure it is elsewhere in Britain today. East London was perishing at lunchtime and when I got back to Wivenhoe, old puddles at the side of the road hadn’t thawed.

The perfect day, then, for a chunky bowl of Italian peasant food. A classic Ribollita is a heartwarming soup of vegetables, beans and bread – used to thicken the soup to an almost stew-like consistency. Everyone will have their own favourite way to make it, but I do like this one from Jamie Oliver. And he’s right, it’ll taste even better tomorrow.

The recipe is here.

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.

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

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.

December 30, 2011

2011 leftovers: Chilli and parmesan polenta recipe

Before we made this, a couple of months ago, I think I had eaten polenta about twice in my life. Each time it was bland and distinctly, well, horrible. I never wanted to go near t again. I’d see it on a menu and think “Ha, well they’re trying to be clever, but it won’t work,” or see it cooked on TV and think “They’re gonna taste it and say it’s nice, but they’ll be lying”.

Polenta. Italian peasant food. But I kept on seeing it and some of my favourite cooks feature a polenta recipe every time they release a new recipe book. So what was my problem?

Well, blandness and texture were the big things and, fortunately, they could be sorted. I wanted a polenta that was rich with flavour and didn’t feel like gritty mush in the mouth. Actually, it’s easy to achieve and, typing this up, I’d like some more of it now.

We cooked 250 grams of ‘coarse maize’ polenta in around a litre of simmering vegetable stock until it was soft, stirring regularly. I think that took about 20 minutes (to remove the granularity) but I could be wrong – so keep checking. We then stirred in some chopped birds eye chillis and a handful of grated parmesan/pecorino cheese, gave it a good mix and spread into an oiled shallow baked tray. After about 20 minutes, the polenta is cool and set firm. We could then cut it into triangles and grill/griddle it. This would work well on a barbecue, though it’s too chilly to be thinking about that at the moment.

We served our polenta wedges with greens and peppers – thinking of it as the carb on the plate in place of potato, pasta or rice. And it was really tasty. Honest. Consider me converted.

December 15, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasted aubergine with fried onion and chopped lemon

About half way through the afternoon Ella and I discussed ideas for dinner and realised we didn’t havethe faintest notion what to cook. Then I remembered this Ottolenghi recipe from the weekend’s paper. It doesn’t look ‘all that’ in the accompanying photo, but a look at the ingredients told me it would be warming and smoky, but also light and fresh with a real citrus kick. It proved, indeed, to be all of those things. With bells on.

I do have to get round to discussing Ottolenghi in more depth at some point, as we ate at his restaurant this autumn and, while it was enjoyable, we left somewhat underwhelmed. We’ve made (and loved – and I mean really loved) so much of his food at home that our expectations were high. But that’s for another time.

For now, and as an antidote to all the stodgy British midwinter we’re bound to get stuck into over the coming weeks, here‘s the recipe. We served it with a big old leafy salad, dressed heartily.