I've been meaning to make leeks with vinaigrette since we got back from Paris at the beginning of March. We were primed for a fancy lunch for my great Aunty Suzy's 100th birthday, but selfishly, she got ill and was in hospital on the day. So instead, we all ended up going to a brasserie next to the hospital in the south west of the city. 30 of us. Just outside of the périphérique. Can you imagine sinking so low? We visited her after.We piled straight in at the height of lunchtime, all seated without so much as a Gallic shrug. And while we were split into two tables, we still managed to eat at the same time. The very nice man looking after our table only forgot to bring my citron pressé. Three times. And then he told me they didn't have any more lemons and "how about orange?" I still haven't let go of my disappointment. I can't. I was really looking forward to it.I haven't got a clue what anyone else ate. I dimly remember my main course as something to do with cod. It was a busy place, lively, fun and full of Parisians being Parisian. Doing French stuff like reading poetry and having affairs, all in their lunch break. But it was my starter which I loved and which reminded me of how simple food is often the best. And you can't get much simpler than some leek, cooked until soft and dressed in vinaigrette. Theirs had a touch of cream in it, softening it gently and making it silky smooth. Mine has some finely minced shallot in and I've sprinkled some croutons on top to give a little crunch.Make sure you use fresh and tender leek. Steam them if possible, this dish can end up a little 'leathery' and chewy if you're not careful. Served gently warm or slightly cold, this is an elegant starter with friends for supper or even a light lunch. You can prepare it ahead of time too, one job fewer if you're entertaining.Ingredients for four people1 leek, tough green part removed then sliced lengthwiseA couple of slices of bread. I used some slightly stale pitta I had in the bread bin. Yum1tsp garam masala1tsp fennel seeds1/2 banana shallot, minced2tsp Dijon mustard2tsp tarragon vinegar (or cider vinegar)4tbsp olive oil4tbsp rapeseed oilSalt to seasonMethodSteam the sliced leek for about four minutes then drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.While the leek is cooking, heat a sauté pan with some olive oil and cut the bread into small cubes.Toast them in the oil until nice and crisp then drain on kitchen paper and toss through with the garam masala and fennel seeds.Make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt, then slowly whisk in the oils to make an emulsion. Loosen it a little with a splash or two of water and mix in the shallot.Toss the leek through with the vinaigrette and divide between four plates, scattering over the croutons and a few more fennel seeds if you like. Finish with another pinch of salt on the leeks.
The petrol station. Where food goes to die. This is why people think badly of Scotch eggs, although, thankfully there has been a little positive renaissance recently of these picnic staples, and done well, they are delicious. There was even a recent trend for 'artisan scotch eggs' in the edgier areas of London. Although why you'd want an artisan to make your lunch rather than a cook is beyond me. It would probably be full of wood shavings and metal filings. And no doubt beard hair.There is much debate about the origin of this dish. I wonder if 'scotching' an egg means keeping it alive but rendering it harmless inside a case. Shakespeare says in Macbeth 'We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it’ (see, Mrs. Hutchings, I was paying attention at the back). But whatever the origin of the term, it doesn't seem to be used for any other dishes. And whatever the method or serving, egg wrapped in meat cannot fail to be a good thing. Unless you're vegan. Or vegetarian.Allegedly invented in the 18th century at Fortnum and Masons, the dish pops up all over the place if you look carefully behind the cushions. The one that excited me most of all was from Lucknow, in India. Their version is served in a rich, spicy gravy but here I've taken those flavours and added them to the meat itself then serve it with a yoghurt dipping sauce. A kind of Scotch egg curry. Bloody hell. And as with many British meals, our Empire travels, subjugation and plundering has given us a wide variety of dishes full of spice and exotic backgrounds. Every cloud and all that...Ingredients500g lamb minceA few tablespoons of paste made from onion, green chilli, garlic and ginger2tsp ground turmeric1tbsp ground cumin1tbsp chilli powder1tbsp ground cumin2tsp dried mint2tsp ground fenugreekSalt and pepper4 eggs, boiled for five and a half minutes then quickly cooled (I boiled mine for four minutes for a runny and explosive yolk filling, but you may want it firmer)Breadcrumbs (I used panko and crushed them a little) mixed with 1tbsp garam masala.For the dip:Natural yoghurtCoriander leaves, choppedMint leaves, choppedToasted flaked almonds1/2tsp grated garlic1/2tsp grated gingerPinch of ground cinnamon, ground cardamom and caraway seedsMethodMix the meat and spices together and wrap each egg in a layer of the mixture, making sure the whole egg is sealed. Do this gently, it's easy to squash them.Put in the fridge for an hour to chill and firm then roll each one in the breadcrumbs, pressing them into the meat.If you have a deep-fryer, this is what it was born for. If not, carefully cook them in oil in a deep and heavy pan, only half-filling it to avoid accidents and over spill.Heat the oil to 180c and cook the eggs, a couple at a time until golden brown all over. This will take about four to five minutes.Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool a little before serving with the dip, extra green chillies and coriander leaves.
This spice mix, key to much Indian cooking, is so easy to make.You can tailor it to have more cinnamon, fewer cloves, a pinch of chilli heat and so on, as you wish. It goes in at the beginning of cooking and at the end to finish a dish. It peps up scrambled or baked eggs and can go in a flatbread dough. It's a real store cupboard essential here.There must be as many recipes for garam masala as there are spices and combinations. Here's mine.Ingredients1tbsp dill seeds2tbsp coriander seeds1tbsp green cardamom seeds1 black cardamom1 dried red chilli1 cassia bark stick (about six cm)1tbsp ajwain seeds1tbsp black peppercorns1tsp ground nutmeg1tsp ground mace1tbsp cumin seeds1tsp black salt powder (or Maldon salt)MethodPut all the spices in a heavy-based pan and heat for a few minutes until fragrant. Leave to cool and grind in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder until it becomes a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar and use as needed.
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
A simple one today to serve with an aperitif when you have friends round.You can buy quails' eggs ready hard-boiled and peeled if you like, I often do. To be honest, in this case it's probably easier and less fiddly than boiling and peeling your own.I've done these before with smoked paprika, but today a sprinkle of garam masala took my fancy. Paired with the crunch of pistachio and the fragrance of coriander they went perfectly with some cold ginger beer.Just roll the eggs in the spice mix and drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Again, you can use ready-made garam masala or make your own. Depends how much time you have to spare before your guests arrive, which, if like me will be none as we struggle to get the children to bed while only wearing one sock...