Bread. So comforting. All types from the soft and pillowy to the crusty, worthy and hard work. The trashy white slice filled with butter and grated cheese, the ciabatta rubbed with garlic, drenched in olive oil and toasted. The baguette, the base of a pizza, the pitta bread to hot to hold plunged into the houmous.It fills every need and no meal is worse for it being involved somewhere. Sandwiches would be very poor without it.I can't imagine a dahl without naan to dip in it and I love to dredge some focaccia through the rich juices left behind from some tomatoes slowly roasted in olive oil. The restaurants of my childhood memories are full of bread rolls and butter too hard to spread. Even rye bread, denser than the 'contestants' on 'Love Island', has its place, supporting prawns, dill mayonnaise and boiled egg.I'm always keen to try out new variations on what is always based on the simple premise of flour, yeast, water, salt and time and these 'sheermal' are a slightly sweet and soft milk bread. A new addition to the recipe collection. They are great straight from the pan and work well as a breakfast bread with some strong spiced tea but go equally well with a yoghurt dip.There is saffron in them, even though time and time again I ask myself why? It may be a pretty colour, but is it not, ultimately tasteless and a big waste of everybody's time?Ingredients125ml milk250g bread flour1tsp dried yeast1tsp cardamon seeds1tbsp sugarA pinch of salt185g melted butterPinch of saffron1tbsp orange blossom water1tsp vanilla pasteMethodPour the milk into a large bowl and add the yeast, spices and sugar.Mix in the butter and flour then mix in the milk and salt to make a soft dough.Rest for two hours. The bread that is, although feel free to lie down too.Divide the dough into eight balls then roll out into flat circles.Heat a cast iron pan until really hot then cook each bread for ten seconds on each side until colouring. Pile up and serve warm or leave to cool and serve with cucumber yoghurt dip.This weekWatched:Joan of Arc documentary on BBC4. Was she nuts? Was she guided by God? Was the country fighting itself because humans are greedy, corrupt and power crazed? Who knows, but she was certainly committed to her cause and didn't let 15th century attitudes (not too dissimilar to 21st century ones, sadly) stop her.Read:A New Yorker feature on the Faroe Islands dining scene. Fascinating and engaging, but something I'm more than happy to experience vicariously.Listened:The soundtrack to Good Morning Vietnam. Found when I was sorting out my cassettes. For the younger readers, cassettes are terrible things spooling magnetic tape all over the place and when they do function sound awful. However, it brought back good memories and suddenly I was back in 'Nam again. I wasn't, but I was transported somewhere.Eat:Meal of the week was slow roasted tomatoes with harissa, oregano and olive oil cooked in a cocotte. Intense.
I was in a hotel in Paris for some of last week, eating unusually. The family had gathered in the 15ème from around Europe and America for Aunty Suzy's funeral, she was 100. An achievement, especially as she smoked comme une cheminée until she was at least 80.She was buried among illustrious company in the Montparnasse cemetery. Grumpy, ugly singers, Irish playwrights probably still waiting, existentialist philosophers, artists and grands fromages from history share the cold ground. I may not be able to see her anymore, but there is a place I can go to visit. Her apartment block will always be there, but new people will occupy it, more lives being lived. I'll not see those rooms again. God knows they're in for a surprise when they see the decoration that hasn't changed since she moved in.The local boulangerie furnished me with two ficelles a day, the tiny Carrefour express two minutes away kept me in supplied with ham, paté and cheese and I went to the Monoprix around the corner just to look at the food on display like a drooling window shopper. Being at the mercy of restaurants for each meal is not for me, merci. So a bag on the hotel balcony in the chilly November air served as an impromptu fridge to store my supplies.This kept me from being grumpy, like a local, and when you're dealing with 20 family members and trying to organise group meals, you need to fortify yourself. It's like herding cats, so pre-emptive snacks are a must.We went out for cous cous, it's a family tradition. Merguez and I have a long and happy history, but don't get to be together much anymore. It's a long-distance relationship, but we're always pleased to see each other. Much of my family grew up in Tripoli where the Ghirlando Brothers shipping company was based so this food is a reminder of their childhood and all of them together is like the good old days.I raided the patisserie on the Rue de Lourmel – canelé and pear tarts every day. The occasional palmier, petite beurre and chocolate barquette may have fallen into my bag. And creme brulée and tart tatin were shoveled down my trou gateau at the nearest opportunity. I clearly can't be trusted in Paris where even the smell of the Metro is like a meal to me. I also had steak tartare with salad and proper french frites. It's what she would have wanted.This clearly and sadly can't go on. But that doesn't mean I have to return to a life of pottage. How gruel that would be. So with the simplest of ingredients I made a feast to liven up a cold London lunchtime. Cherry tomatoes, slowly cooked in garlic, herbs and oil until bursting have at least doubled in flavour. And the aubergine, first charred and burnt on the gas flame was roasted until soft then blitzed with garlic, onion and thyme compote that I'd slowly and softly melted down under a paper cartouche, the flame beneath barely stronger than a match.I made some pitta breads, soft and a little blackened in parts from the griddle, to mop up all the juices and we sat, contently and quietly eating. To cut through the richness there was a salad of thinly sliced red onion, sliced baby cucumber, crumbled feta cheese from the new Turkish shop round the corner and a sprinkle of dried Sicilian oregano. It was finished off with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar (I had no red wine vinegar) and some black pepper.All of this can be made in advance, perhaps the night before while making supper. The tomatoes can stay out on the kitchen worktop, but take the aubergine purée out of the fridge an hour before eating. If it's too cold its flavour will be as non-existent as Jean-Paul Sartre's afterlife.IngredientsHere is the pitta bread recipeFor the confit tomatoA punnet of cherry tomatoesGood olive oil to cover1tbsp fennel seeds1tbsp coriander seeds1tsp peppercorns4-6 cloves of garlicA pinch of saltFor the aubergine dip1 very large aubergine2 cloves of garlicSome olive oilSalt and pepper to seasonFor the onion compote1 large white onion1 sprig of thyme1 clove of garlic, slicedSalt and pepperFor the salad1/2 Feta cheese, crumbled1 small red onion, thinly sliced2 baby cucumbers, thinly sliced1tbsp dried oreganoOlive oilCider vinegarSalt and pepper to seasonMethodBurn the aubergine all over on a gas flame or with a blowtorch. You can also do this under a grill if you have access to neither. Roast in a hot oven until soft then leave to cool a little.Blend the aubergine with its skin in a food processor, adding the garlic and enough olive oil to form a fairly loose purée. Add a few tablespoons of the onion compote if you are making that and blend well. Season to taste.Add all the confit tomato ingredients to a heavy-based saucepan, making sure the olive oil covers the tomatoes and bring to a gentle heat. Cook low and slowly until the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape. Leave to cool in the oil. You can even put these in a sterilised jar to store for up to three days in the fridge if you like.The onion compote takes the longest so if you haven't made this yet, I'd start an hour ago.Finely slice the onion and add to a heavy sauté pan. Add a good glug of olive oil, a few thyme sprigs, the garlic and salt and pepper. Bring to a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down as low as you can and cover the onions with a circle of parchment paper. Put a lid on the top too if you have one. Cook slowly for about an hour until the onions are meltingly soft. Stir occasionally during cooking and don't let them brown.Toss the salad ingredients together about 20 minutes before you want to eat it to allow the flavours to mellow. All these dishes taste best if you leave them a little while to mature.Serve everything with fresh, warm pitta bread.This weekRead: Can you believe it? I finished Middlemarch. I'd like to thank Bee for the recommendation and can now put that book firmly back on the shelf. It feels like a blessed relief to be reading 'Quand sort la recluse' a 'Policier' by Fred Vargas. Trashy, murdery fun.Watched: Very little. Blue planet and Howard's End. And a little bit of a French shopping channel on Saturday Morning.Listened: I went deep into the Les Misérables soundtrack on youtube the other day. And The Stamboul Train by Graham Greene on the BBC iPlayerEat: Before I went away I cooked some red split lentils until very soft with turmeric and cumin. On top of that there were some quickly sautéed courgette cubes with garlic and seared lamb neck fillets, pink in the middle, a little dense and chewy for some, but I enjoyed them.
It's not alchemy, but trying to turn base ingredients into the elusive gold perfection of a taste memory with nothing to work on but hearsay and supposition and only a dishes' name sees me often in the kitchen pacing about, reading, thinking, scribbling, chopping, emptying out spice drawers then walking away to do something on the new to do list that I've been given by Bee and returning later, like a cat pacing suspiciously around it's prey.My fascination with the aubergine has taken a new turn this week. And with it, comes something I'm now going to have to add to the ongoing experiment book. It's called kashke bimjebob, josh and kajagoogo, koj and betjeman, jok and bitumen or, I don't really know, and my friend Sam Stowell who introduced me to this dish said he gets laughed at every time he orders it in the restaurant because he can't pronounce it either.The version here, my first attempt is delicious. But I think the chefs in the restaurant must have added some kind of special voodoo to theirs that they're not going to tell me in a hurry. This is close, but not quite. The next attempt may involve burning the aubergine skin on a flame to make it smokier, toasting the walnuts and perhaps almost doubling the garlic. And, and, and.Traditionally this is made using whey. While this is pretty hard to buy, you can easily make it yourself by filling a small muslin with natural yoghurt and draining it overnight into a bowl in the fridge. This will also give you some cream cheese as a by product. Failing that, you can use natural yoghurt as is. I added a splash of keffir to mine as well.But don't let that stop you making this version and carrying on with your adjustments. A good aubergine dip is a winner anyway. The bread is easy to make, and the dip, served alongside some halved cherry plum tomatoes dressed with a little oil, salt and vinegar made a fresh and wholesome lunch on what was a rather hot day.Ingredients2 auberginesRather more olive oil than you think you needA pinch or two of salt5 cloves of garlic2tbsp natural yoghurt100ml keffir or whey2 brown onions, sliced and dicedA handful or two of walnuts, plus a few extra to dress2-3tbsp dried mintA couple of spring onionsFor the bread:500g plain flour350ml water14g fresh yeast (or 7g dried)A large pinch of salt1tsp sugarSesame seeds to dressMethodMake the bread by mixing together the yeast, sugar and water until it's fully dissolved. Add the flour and salt and knead for ten minutes, or do it in a stand mixer for five.Shape in to a ball and put in an oiled bowl with a tea-towel over it for about an hour, or until it's doubled in size. This depends on how hot it is in your kitchen...Meanwhile, heat the oven to high, about 200c or gas 8. Pierce the aubergines with a knife so they don't pop in the oven, put them on an oven tray, drizzle with oil and a sprinkle of salt and cook for about 30 minutes.Divide the dough into eight balls, cover and leave for another half an hour before rolling out into flatbreads. Poke all over with your fingers to make dimples, brush with water and sprinkle over the sesame seeds.Cook for around 25 minutes until starting to turn golden then keep warm in tea-towels while you get everything else together.Sauté the onions in some olive oil until turning golden then add the garlic and mint and cook for a minute or two longer. Season well.Blitz the walnuts to a crumb in a food processor or blender then add the onion mix and aubergine, having chopped off its stem.Add the yoghurt, or whey or whatever you're using and blend well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of whatever you feel it needs.Serve the dip with more olive oil, a scattering of walnuts and a sprinkle of dried mint and chopped spring onion if you fancy.
The dough has risen again after the first thirty minutes. I knocked it back with a gentle flick or two of the wrist and folded it in on itself a few times before shaping into a smooth ball.The soft, smooth, elastic dough felt good and I just knew it would be delicious when cooked on a firey hot griddle pan. The olive oil and yoghurt and the spoonful of sourdough starter added to the mixture has given it a silken tang and it gently springs back on itself when prodded.I leave it for another hour in the bowl by the warm oven, covered with clingfilm and check on it every now and then, watching it double and transform slowly before me.This is the joy of bread making. I get the most from it when I do it by touch and feel, judging the amount of flour or water needed by sight and how the wet dough clings to my fingers or crumbles in my hand, needing more liquid. In my mind, it's a living thing that needs looking after and caring for until it's ready for the oven or pan. And when, miraculously, you've managed to keep a starter going for nearly two years, each loaf or dough feels that much more special.I have written a pitta bread recipe here before, and while that was more than good enough, this one has a few tweaks that I feel improve it. But I can guarantee that the next time it will again be different. Once you get the hang of feeling how the dough works, you can do what you want with it. You'll know when it's going to work or not.I cooked these on the griddle pan then finished them on the open gas flame, the bread bubbling and inflating here and there, smoking slightly, occasionally catching fire. Charred and hot, I covered one flatbread with a base made from crushed butter beans mixed with a tablespoon of harissa, some natural yoghurt, salt and pepper and some chopped parsley. On the still hot griddle pan. I charred some courgette slices with a little olive oil and ground cumin, well seasoned. A few chilli flakes wouldn't have gone amiss here, but I was too hungry by this point. Sliced there and then on the worktop, I ate it plateless and very inelegantly, in such a way that I would have told the children off for. However, they were still at school and they can eat theirs later, at the table.MethodIn a large bowl, mix together a good few handfuls of strong flour. If you want measurements, I'd say probably around 400g. To this, add a handful of semolina flour, about a tablespoon of fresh yeast, which you can get from most supermarkets. I just broke a cube of it in half and sprinkled that in. On the other side of the bowl, throw in a large pinch of salt. A chef's pinch, as it were, which is more like a small fistful...Add some olive oil, probably about 75ml, enough water to make a soft dough (this will be around 350ml), a tablespoon or two of natural yoghurt, and if you have it, some sourdough starter.Mix well until it comes together nicely and fold it in on itself a few times until you have a nice, pliable and soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands too much but also isn't flaky. A little like a soft pillow...Shape into a ball and leave covered in the bowl for half an hour. Punch it gently to deflate it and fold it around itself again a few times before reshaping into a ball, covering again and leaving for about an hour.Throw some semolina on the worktop, break off small balls of dough and roll them into thin circles about the size of a single. That's 7".Heat a griddle pan, cook the bread each side until starting to char and finish off on the gas flame if you have one. If not, never mind...Keep warm in a towel and finish the rest of the dough. Serve immediately with the butter bean mixture or some houmous or suchlike.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And while this is not pudding and I have nothing to prove, the only way you're going to understand how delicious this dish is, is by making and eating it. I urge you to do this as soon as you can.Read More
There'd probably be a punch up about who first baked bread and covered it with toppings. Probably, as with everything it was invented in ancient Egypt. Or China. Or Greece. I bet it wasn't Italy and certainly not Hawaii. It doesn't really matter though, it's a great idea. A hoi sin and duck covered pizza, as I once saw advertised, is not. What kind of psychopath comes up with these things?It's hard to beat the crisp crust and soft dough of a traditional Italian pizza and it's near impossible to recreate at home. Flatbreads, however, are much simpler and delicious in their own right. They take hardly any time to make either. And this recipe, once you've got the lamb in the oven pretty much takes care of itself. If you want, you can leave the lamb cooking overnight on a very low heat, but if like us, you have an oven that sounds quite similar to Concorde taking off, you may want to cook it during the day.Get everything prepped first thing, though, and it's just a case of assembly. There may seem to bea lot of ingredients, but there's nothing unusual here. It's all great the next day too, apart from the bread, that should be cooked as freshly as possible.IngredientsFor the lamb1/2 lamb shoulder4tbsp harissa2tbsp ground cumin1 red onion, puréed2 cloves of garlic, puréed2tbsp olive oilSalt and pepper to seasonFor the tabouleh50g buckwheat, cooked200g parsley, finely chopped3tbsp olive oilSmall bunch of chopped mintJuice and zest of a lemon6 cherry tomatoes1tbsp sumacA handful of pomegranate seedssalt and pepperFor the bread280g white bread flour20g semolina200ml water7g sachet of yeastA large pinch of saltMethodMix together the lamb coating ingredients in a large dish. Stab the lamb all over a few times just to be sure then massage in the rub. Cook in a low oven for about six to eight hours. Remove and leave to cool. You wont be able to resist picking at it. This is almost the best part, pulling the meat away, licking your fingers and secretly stuffing your face in the kitchen. When cool, you can shred it with your hands or a couple of forks. Put all the meat in a large bowl and set aside.While the lamb is cooking, make the bread and tabouleh.Mix together all the tabouleh ingredients and taste to check the seasoning and balance. Adjust as you see fit.Mixt the bread ingredients together, adding the water a little at a time as you mix it in. Knead for about five minutes, cover and leave to rise for half an hour.Divide into six balls and roll out flat into circles about 3mm thick.Heat a frying pan (I prefer cast iron for this, but don't worry too much) until really hot andcook the bread one at a time until it puffs up and turns golden in parts. You can then flip it and put it directly on the flame to finish if you have gas. Can't do that on an induction can you, eh?Wrap the breads in a towel and leave until ready.Serve the breads topped with the tabouleh and shredded lamb with a spoonful or two of tahini and natural youghurt.
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.
In 2005 on honeymoon in South America I discovered Heuvos rancheros. To be fair, I didn’t actually discover them, they were on the menu. Corn tortillas with a spicy tomato sauce and soft fried eggs was a real treat. The chilli really gives you a little kick in the morning.I’ve taken that and added it to a classic mix of smoked salmon, avocado and egg and changed the tortilla for chickpea flatbreads to keep the carbs down. They also add a nuttiness to the dish and are quite a bit easier to make. Use as much or as little chilli as you like and make sure the avocados are nice and ripe.Serves: 2Preparation time: 10 minutesCooking time: 20 minutesIngredients4 slices smoked salmon2 eggsRapeseed oil and a little butter for frying1 shallot, finely sliced8 cherry tomatoes, halved1 avocado, chopped2 spring onions2 red chillies, finely sliced - I use birdseye, but feel free to use milderjuice of half a lemonSalt and pepper to seasonFor the flatbreads:100g chickpea flour2tbsp rapeseed oil75ml waterA large pinch of salt2tbsp poppy seeds2tbsp chopped coriander leafMethod1. Mix the flatbread ingredients together in a bowl until you have quite a loose paste.
- Heat a cast iron pan until very hot and add a large spoonful of the paste. When it starts to set, spread it out a little bit until you have a small, thick pancake like bread. Cook the rest of the bread like this and set aside. If you prefer, you can make large ones by adding more of the mix to the pan, gradually adding the paste bit by bit as you spread it out.
- Heat some rapeseed oil in a heavy based pan and add the tomatoes, shallots and chilli then season well. Heat for a few minutes until the shallot and tomato begins to soften. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.
- Heat the pan again, adding a little butter and gently fry the eggs on a low heat. Season well.
- Put a flatbread on each plate, top with the smoked salmon and avocado then add the tomato mixture. Scatter over the spring onion and coriander leaves and serve.