The more I cook, perhaps the older I get (or is it tireder), the fewer ingredients I want to use in a dish. And the simpler the food I'm making, the more delicious it seems to be.This week it's been a case of taking a vegetable and using that as the starting point for a meal. A little more thinking has had to be applied rather than thoughtlessly going with the usual starchy suspects you reach for on a rapidly darkening Tuesday evening.As if dealing with the sad acceptance that we don't live in an endless Swallows and Amazons summer wasn't enough, now we have to start eating properly again. No more cream teas and cake for the evening meal. Out has gone the pasta, rice and potatoes that form so many daily meals, and in, the sad acceptance that we are no longer inhabiting our 20 year old bodies.But it need not be dull as we slip headlong into turnip season. We are still heavy with aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes and sweetcorn among other things. The salads are fading, but my appetite is growing. And as we lose nearly two hours of daylight over September's delicate and gentle colour change, we can start to get bolder and deeper with flavours.This recipe is based on the gloriously named Pushpesh Pant's 'curried aubergine in coconut sauce', which he says is from India's 'coastal region'. So just a small area then. I've added saffron, almond flakes, green chillies and coriander to mine to pep things up a little.Rich and exciting, it's texture is indecently silky, as if Liberty's had opened a dodgy Soho alleyway silk scarf shop. We had it twice this week, the juices mopped up with spiced chickpea flatbreads. I've still got one more aubergine in the fridge from the veg box, so we haven't seen the last of this in our house.Ingredients1 medium-sized aubergine1tsp asafoetida1tsp chilli powder1/2tsp turmeric powder200-240ml coconut milkA sprinkle of flaked almondsA pinch of saffronA small green chilli, sliced thinlyCoriander leaves to garnishSalt and pepper to seasonGroundnut, rapeseed or vegetable oil to fry. And plenty of itMethodMix the spices together in a little dish or ramekin with enough water to make a fairly thick paste.Trim and slice the aubergine into discs roughly 1/2cm thickHeat the oil in a large sauté pan and fry the aubergine in a couple of batches until golden on each side, having seasoned with a generous hand. Set each batch aside on a plate until you have finished.Add the spice paste to the pan and fry for a second or two, stirring well so it breaks up a little. Add the coconut milk and mix well until the spices dissolve into it, giving it a golden amber colour and releasing its aromas.Gently add the aubergines back to the pan and simmer for a few minutes until heated through. Don't cook them for too long or they will collapse.Sprinkle with the green chilli, nuts, saffron and coriander, give a good twist of pepper and serve hot.
Before Christmas I was invited to eat at Hot Pot in London's Chinatown. Think meat fondue, but with fireworks, dancers, a full orchestra and a jousting tournament.I have never seen so much food on a table, it would have seemed excessive even to George IV, but we made a good go of it. Fresh fish, squid, mussels, tofu, dried beancurd, steak, pork, vegetables, cardiac heart paddles, elastic waist trousers and more. For once, sharing plates actually had enough food on them for me to not feel hard done by.There were a lot of base stocks to choose from. "Beauty rich" collagen broth, a thick, deep stock from pig bones, "longevity mushroom", "ancient pork stomach" (not sure if it's the recipe or the stomach that's ancient, but I thought if it's piping hot throughout, it's probably ok) and quite a few others. Plenty of sauces on the side made it a real mix and match meal, every bite different.Now we're in January, soups and broths are just the thing fill you with an enormous sense of wellbeing as you look to eat more healthily until at least next week when the chocolate, crisps and self-loathing resurface. I occasionally have a hot mug of broth in the morning in place of coffee. It's a refreshing way to start the day.But I've never made a proper tom yum, always making it up as I go along. Ben, the chef at Hot Pot (who is from Thailand), gave me this, his recipe, and watched over me as I made it. "Good" was all he said. So I'll take it that this is the way to do it. I like it fiery, almost lip-numbing, so I've gone quite far with the chilli here. Tone it down if you prefer.If you have a fondue set, you can recreate the hot pot experience at home. Just use the fondue dish as the bowl for the broth, keep it hot and bubbling and dip slices of fish or meat or whatever you're cooking in to it and keep going until you've had enough. Put everything on the table and tuck in. You could even invite some friends round.Ingredients1l chicken stock2tbsp galangal or some sliced ginger (I used galangal paste from the supermarket)3-4 shallots, pounded in a pestle and mortar2 lemon grass sticks, sliced1tbsp dried chilli paste (you could use harissa at a push)6 kaffir lime leaves1tbsp sugarFish sauce and lime juice to tasteGreen chilli, sliced, to tasteA bunch of coriander1-2tbsp tom yum paste. You can buy this or make it yourself by blitzing together:1 shallot (echalion or banana. Don't bother with the small round ones, they are a bugger to peel)Lime juice (about one lime)2 lemongrass spears1tbsp galangal (or ginger)Roots from a bunch of corianderSome dried red chillies (I used about six)Enough rapeseed or groundnut oil to make a pasteMethodBring the stock to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add all the other ingredients apart from the coriander leaves and green chillies. Cook for a few minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more fish sauce or lime juice and more chilli if it's not hot enough. Dress with coriander and sliced green chilli.That's it. It freezes well, too, so you can make batches of this and defrost it as and when.
Just as we've recovered from our trip to Legoland, it's time for the school summer fair. I found myself flipping burgers and sausages for four hours with Mike on a hot Saturday after volunteering to help. I'm sure there must have been some form of mind control involved, or perhaps he asked me when Maya was pulling my nose and Noah was falling off his scooter at speed. However it happened, he must have caught me at a weak moment.But now the meat sweats have calmed down, and I no longer smell like a forest fire and can face eating again it's been little but salads this week, or ham and egg on toast. Simple and quick things that don't require much thought or time.So in light of not a great deal going on in the kitchen for the past few days, here is a selection of things I find essential and interestingly useful from my bulging shelves.La isla bonito:dried and fermented smoked tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to many seafood dishes and stocks. I particularly like to add it to the pasta when I'm making spaghetti alle vongole. And I occasionally just like smelling the jar for that strange almost fish food smell.We bought a yuzu:I'll often use this in dressings instead of lemon juice to give a slightly different citrus tang or in sorbets and lemon tarts.Yeast today, once more:Usually I make the weekly bread using my sourdough starter, but when I want a quicker loaf, pitta breads, ciabbattas or the like, I'll use this fresh yeast from Sweden (via Ocado or the internet). It's tangy, I much prefer fresh than the dried powdery stuff and I like the packaging.Tarragon with the wind:Not many days pass in this house without a salad and our house vinaigrette. Cider vinegar that has had a small bunch of tarragon steeping in it is key to this. Aniseed and apple flavours make this vinaigrette stand out.Fungi to be around:Dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder (or for that matter, dried mushrooms of most kinds) make an excellent seasoning for steak, or beef. I also add it to my mushroom pasta and many other dishes where I want that deep umami hit.Oil be seeing you, in all the old familiar places:I have a standard olive oil to cook with and I have a few special ones to dress with. Food that is, I don't need oil on hand when putting clothes on. Just spending a little more on a really good quality olive oil makes such a difference to finishing dishes or for making dressings or just to dip good bread in.Sitting on the dock of the Old Bay:First of all, I love the packaging. Second, no fish taco in this house is complete without Old Bay seasoning. Easy.Pepper the conversation:Japanese pepper is slightly fruity and lemony, so is great on seafood or with meringues and strawberries. I use it a lot when I want an extra kick without too much pepper flavourAil be seeing you, in all those old familiar faces:A house without garlic is a sad house.Cutting the mustard:Maille is my preferred brand of Dijon mustard. I use it in vinagrettes and it's a must(ard) with roast chicken.Chilli in here:I like chilli heat, we have a variety of hot chilli sauces on the shelves too. And one of my favourite uses for them is hot green chilli sliced onto scrambled eggs. Hot green chillies probably would improve most dishes in my opinion.Herb Salt:A mix of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley, this salt will turn your morning fried eggs into delicious morning fried eggs. And there are plenty more uses for it than that too. Seasoning chicken skin before the bird goes in the oven, sprinkling over flaky white fish or seasoning, even curing salmon, this salt is just a little bit more than the usual. All you need is a spice grinder and it keeps for a long, long while.
I prefer Autumn lamb, more flavoursome than spring and in my mind, less mean-spirited to eat. It's had a chance to gambol about and is saved from the misery of the long dark days of winter. It will never know what it's like to leave the shed first thing in the morning in the dark and come home after a hard day still in the dark. It's had one glorious summer.Harissa, garlic and rosemary were born to go with lamb. Spread all over a leg and studded through is a heavenly mix. Here though, I've stuffed the breast with a few other bits and pieces then rolled it tightly, slowly roasting it, at first on high to crisp the skin, then slowly for a few more hours so all the flavours melt into each other. Once you've done the chopping, which is a pretty quick job, you can just put it in the oven and you're free to do some gambolling of your own.We ate this with a butter bean mash laced with lemon juice to cut through the richness. All you need for this is a tin of butter beans, the juice of half a lemon, some salt and thyme sprigs. Heat them all together in a pan and crush until mashed.Ingredients1kg lamb breastA few thyme sprigs, leaves only1tbsp cumin seedsSalt and pepper3tbsp harissa1/2 red onion, sliced1 red chilli, finely sliced1 fat garlic cloveFor the stuffing6 dried apricots, preferably the natural black ones, choppedA handful of pistachios, crushed1tsp capers1tbsp ground cinnamon1/2 block of fetaMethodHeat the oven to 220cRoll back the layers of meat and sprinkle the thyme and cumin seeds under the first layer of skin.Lay the next layer back down and spread all over with the harissa then sprinkle over the pistachio. Spread over the onion, garlic and chilli then the apricot and capers.Crumble over the feta and sprinkle on the cinnamon.Tightly roll the lamb and tie it well all round with string.Cook for half an hour then turn the oven down to 150c and cook for another two and a half hours. Leave to rest and carve into slices.
First of all, if you don't like beetroot, please leave the room becausea: I don't trust youb: you won't like this curry. It tastes of beetroot.For those of you still here, this is a rather special curry. One of those where the taste lingers long after in the mind. In fact, I was dreaming of this dish the day after I made it, keen to cook it again at the soonest opportunity. It's rich, soothing, earthy, firey (and possibly windy), and the dense texture of the beetroot is quite unusual in that the in the curries I usually have, the main ingredient is soft, tender long cooked meat that falls apart, delicate prawns, or meaty fish. This has bite. And the sauce... dredging the chapatis through the deep burgundy velvet is an indecent event.I'd stress the importance of fresh curry leaves. Don't bother with dried ones really. At the very least, use fresh curry leaves you have frozen (which they are very good for). I normally buy quite a few bags and keep them in the freezer just in case. They are so distinct and have such a recognisable aroma when they hit the hot coconut oil in the pan that they immediately hit my memory button of being in Sri Lanka.You can use the base of this curry with prawns if you like and it will be delicious. But please, try this one. You can have a prawn curry any boring old time.Ingredients2tbsp coconut oil4 large beetroot1tsp mustard seeds. I used yellow, but you can useblack1 small cinnamon stick1tbsp ground coriander4 green chillies, sliced (I'd go up to six)1 garlic clove, crushed1 onion, finely slicedA handful of fresh curry leaves1tsp grated fresh turmeric root1/2tsp grated ginger1 tin of coconut milk2tbsp pistachios, chopped2tbsp dessicated coconutSome coriander leavesFor the chapatis:300g wholewheat flour170ml warm waterA good pinch of salt1tsp garam masalaMethodHeat the coconut oil in a large wide pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop add the cinnamon stick and onion. Stir well, season a little and cook gently until the onions start to soften and turn golden. Add the turmeric, coriander, garlic and ginger then stir in the curry leaves.Add the chillies and beetroot, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and mix well.Bring to the boil then turn to a low simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, turning the beetroot occasionally so they cook evenly and the sauce reduces and thickens.If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash of hot water and stir well. Taste, adjust the seasoning and leave to rest while you make the chapatis.Mix the flour, salt, garam masala and water together in a bowl until it forms a dough. Knead for a few minutes then divide into eight balls. Heat a cast iron skillet until red hot and thinly roll out a dough ball into a circle. Cook it in the dry pan until it starts to bubble up. Flip it over and cook until the other side bubbles. If you have a gas hob, finish each bread directly on the flame for about 20 seconds, they puff up really well and char a little.Repeat until you have used all the dough.Heat the curry through, sprinkle over the pistachios, coconut and coriander and serve with the chapatis and some basmati rice if you like.
Yes, this is my second mushroom recipe this week, but I had to use them up somehow. And yes, it has noodles in it, but this couldn't be more different to the fettuccine with mushrooms dish if it tried. Although that's not strictly true, it could be soup. Or a croissant.This is a comforting as well as zingy meal. Sometimes we want that carby hit and a bowl of noodles is just the thing. This one seems almost healthy with all the basil.I've used 'chicken of the woods' here. Its texture and meatiness is so like chicken it is perfect with noodles or in stir fries, especially as we all should cut down on our meat eating. Make sure you use it as freshly as possible, it starts to develop a slightly spongy texture if you keep it too long. If you can't get hold of it, use tofu instead, or feel free to use chicken or prawns if you're keen on the meat.Ingredients (for two):Rapeseed oil and chilli oil if you have it2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced2tbsp soy sauce1tbsp fish sauce80ml water2 red chillies, sliced plus more to finish if you like it hotter1 thumb of galangal, grated (or ginger if you don't have any)200g chicken of the woods, thickly sliced1/2 red onion, sliced2 eggs, beaten1 small turmeric root, grated100g 'sen leek' noodles (folded rice noodles) - cookedA large handful of holy basil leaves per personMethod:Mix the soy, fish sauce and turmeric in a bowl.Heat some oil in a wok and gently fry the galangal, garlic and onion. Turn the heat up and add the mushrooms. Season with a little salt and add some chilli oil. Fry until golden in parts and softened. Turn the heat back down.Add the egg to the pan and scramble gently. Pour in the soy mix, chillies and noodles stir and add the water. Turn up the heat and heat through. Mix through loads of the Thai basil, add a drizzle of chilli oil and more chillies if you like it hot, which I do.
I've had falafels in the past where I'm not sure if they've dropped a squash ball in the wrap and disguised it with garlic mayonnaise or after a busy day, they've swept all the dust from the floor and glued it together with chilli sauce. That could, however, be down to the kind of places I've visited and the time of day I've found myself there.I've heard talk here and there of the best falafel in London, without really paying attention, but toastandbutter.net mentions a place just down the road from me. I will visit one day, it's down the path of good intentions. It's just that the thought of dragging myself over to a windswept and lonely park isn't very appealing.In the meantime, I've made my own, and honestly, these are the best falafels I've ever made. However, I think they may be the only falafels I've ever made. I'd recommend eating them fresh from the pan, hot, just slightly crumbly and wrapped in warm, homemade flatbreads with chilli sauce and peppers.If you like, you can make the mix, shape it and keep it covered in the fridge for a day. It's better to cook them to order than to eat them after they've been hanging around for a while, like someone in a kebab shop queue.Let me know how you make yours, and if you have any secret ingredients.Ingredients1 tin of chickpeas. Even better would be the equivalent amount, dried and soaked overnight, but you may have forgotten, like I did, or maybe you can't be bothered. Either is fine2 banana shallots, finely sliced. Peeled of course1 red onion, finely sliced, as above1 mild red chilli, chopped (or more if you like them poky)2tsp ground cumin2tsp ground corianderA pinch of grated nutmegA handful of baby spinach, quickly wilted, finely chopped and cooled1 free-range egg, lightly beaten2tbsp olive oil2tbsp chickpea (gram) flour for dusting. Or plain flour if you don't have anySalt and pepper. Use decent salt with everything, please250ml rapeseed oil for frying I like HillfarmMethodSlowly sauté the onion, shallots and spices in a pan until soft and golden. Season well, add the chilli and cook for a minute more.Put this in a large bowl, add the spinach, chickpeas, egg and a dash of olive oil then mix well.Mash the mixture together. I used my hands for the fun of it. I won't do it that way again, it took ages. I'd use a potato masher or stick blender, but be sure to not turn it into a purée. It's best if some of the chickpeas remain whole or halved to give a better texture.When you're happy with the mix, shape them using your hands or two tablespoons into quenelle-like shapes. You can then squash these down into patties if you like.Dust them in the flour and put in the fridge to firm for about an hour.Heat a deep pan with the rapeseed oil to about 180c and when ready, slowly drop in a few of the falafels, one at a time. Cook until golden all over, turning them occasionally in the oil. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain while you finish the rest.Serve with tahini yoghurt and some flatbreads and banish those bad memories.
I get upset if I don't have a salad of some kind on the table every evening. Be it a simple one of baby gem with vinaigrette (my favourite), tomato and shallots with parsley and oil or an onion and cucumber one with my popadoms.These are, mostly, accompaniments to a meal. With a little effort they can be transformed into the main event and satisfy the hungriest appetite. There's no need to be disappointed, especially when there are so many flavours you can add. Panzanella, Som Tam, Kachumba and Caesar salad are some examples that come to mind.This salad uses seared sirloin, cooked with the fat on, then trimmed and thinly sliced. Be careful to not overcook it, you want that bright pink to shine through against the green. The sweet, charred and juicy nectarines go well with the meat and are a real taste of summer. Make sure you taste the dressing as you go, bearing in mind how it balances with the finished dish. It should be nutty, slightly sour and a little sweet.Serves 2Ingredients1 sirloin steak, or rump if you prefer3 spring onions, finely sliced1 red onion, cut into eight wedges2 ripe nectarines, quartered1 cucumber, thinly sliced lengthways on a mandoline1 red chilli, sliced (remove the seeds for a milder heat)1 tbsp quinoa seeds, toastedCoriander leaves, choppedFor the dressing4 tbsp walnut oil1 tbsp Jerez vinegar2 tbsp lime juicea pinch of chilli flakesSaltMethodHeat a grill pan until smoking hot and season the steak with salt and pepper. Cook it for three minutes either side then set aside to rest. Add the red onion to the pan and cook in the juices.Add the nectarines, and while they're cooking, toss the cucumber with the spring onion and chilli. Mix the dressing ingredients together and taste. Adjust as necessary with more lime juice or salt.Thinly slice the steak, add to the cucumber with the peaches and red onion, scatter over the coriander and quinoa then drizzle with the dressing and serve.