Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spinach and potatoes (saag aloo)

This is one of my favourite Indian restaurant vegetable dishes: I always have a struggle to decide whether to order this or bindi bhaji (okra) when I get back to the UK.

This recipe is adapted from the one given by Madhur Jaffrey in Indian Cookery, the book of the TV series she did for the BBC back in 1982. It’s a great book, which has lots of nice, clear recipes, although sometimes I think it’s a bit heavy on the ingredients and contains some unnecessary steps. Even these, though, have their charm. Her earnest instructions to pick through your lentils to check they don’t contain any stones are a sign of the book’s roots in a series of letters sent by her mother back in India, when Jaffrey first learnt to cook as a drama student in London. I can’t remember the last time I found a stone in my lentils.

500g frozen spinach
500g potatoes
½ an onion
plenty of sunflower oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of turmeric
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt

  1. Heat a saucepan with plenty of water, once it has reached the boil add the spinach, cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until the spinach is cooked. Drain the spinach and stir with a fork to separate the leaves out a bit. Set aside the cooking liquid.
  2. Peel and cut the onion into very fine strips. Chop the garlic finely. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  3. Heat plenty of sunflower in a large saucepan, add the onion and fry for a minute, then add the garlic and fry for another 30 seconds or so before adding the mustard seeds. Fry for another 30 seconds, then add the turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt, and stir well.
  4. Add the potato cubes, the spinach and enough of the cooking water so that the dish looks moist without it being too watery. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to minimum and cover. Cook until the potatoes are well done (probably around 40 minutes), stirring every so often and checking that there is still enough liquid. The final dish should be neither dry nor soupy, but juicy.
When I cooked this for the photo, I didn’t have any mustard seeds, so I substituted them with sesame seeds instead. I also think that turmeric (I suppose like most spices) is one of those ingredients whose quality varies greatly. I'm not a fan of the big packets of Rajah brand spices you get from most Asian shops, which I think have rather an industrial flavour. Turmeric should be musky but aromatic.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tomato sauce

Making a good tomato sauce is not as easy as it seems. You need to get the proportions and texture right, and then cook it for long enough. In Britain people often add far too much onion and then don’t cook the sauce properly, while in Spain people often use a pressure cooker to make the sauce – which doesn’t give the liquid a chance to evaporate.

You can use either fresh or tinned tomatoes for this (but if you are using tinned tomatoes, then drain them in a colander first, as the juice tends to taste a bit tinny.) There is a bit of a myth in the UK that all supermarket tomatoes are inherently tasteless. In fact, the problem is due to the fact that most tomatoes reach the shops before they are fully ripe and benefit from a few days in a paper bag in a cool place so that their flavour can develop fully. The tomato puree adds flavour, but is not essential (and is curiously hard to obtain in Spain).

The following recipe makes a big pot – it doesn’t take any longer to make a large quantity, and any extra sauce keeps well in the fridge or freezer, or can be used as the base for curries or other dishes.

1 medium sized onion
olive oil
4 kg of fresh tomatoes (or 8 tins of whole tomatoes)
3 cloves of garlic
tomato puree
2 glasses of red wine

  1. Chop the onion finely, and add to a large saucepan with plenty of olive oil. Fry gently.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, cut the top and bottom off them, then chop them into small pieces. If using tinned tomatoes, drain them and chop them into small pieces. (Don’t bother peeling your tomatoes. If you have enough time to peel 4 kg of tomatoes then you have too much time. Find something better to do with it!)
  3. Peel the garlic and chop it finely. Once the onion is golden, add the garlic and fry for another minute or two, then add the chopped tomatoes, some salt, plenty of tomato puree and a couple of glasses of red wine.
  4. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to minimum and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thick. This will probably take a couple of hours – the sauce should reduce by about half, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. Your sauce is now ready, but if you want a smooth sauce then wait for it too cool and blend it using a handheld blender or a food processor.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Green bean and pumpkin stew

This is a really simple vegetable stew, which has a great mix of colours and flavours. The vegetables can, of course, be varied depending on preference and availability.

Ingredients1 large onion
olive oil
4 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
500g of potatoes
500 g of butternut squash
500 g of green beans
2 teaspoons of paprika
stock (chicken or vegetable) or water
a few springs of mint
400g tin of cannellini beans

  1. Chop the onion, and add to a large pot with plenty of olive oil, and put on a low heat. (I usually add the onion before heating the oil, as it reduces the risk of you burning the onions.)
  2. While the onion is cooking, wash the potatoes, but leave the peel on, and chop into 4 or 8 pieces, depending on the size. Remove the thick rind from the squash, and chop the flesh into pieces, about the same size as the potato pieces. Top and tail the beans, wash, and chop into 2 or 3 pieces.
  3. Once the onion is slightly golden, add the whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and fry for a couple more minutes. Add the paprika, stir and fry for a few seconds, then add the potatoes and squash, and enough stock to just cover. Add some salt. (The amount will depend on how salty your stock is.) 
  4. After about 10 minutes, add the green beans, drained cannellini beans and the mint, and continue cooking until all the vegetables are nice and tender.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Roast chicken soup with knaidlach

Making your own stock is really easy. Good quality bought stock is fine for general cooking purposes, but for soup you really need to make your own.

Knaidlach are just little dumplings, made from matzo meal. There is a lot of debate about the best way to make these, including all sorts of ridiculous magical ingredients (club soda, ginger ale etc.), and endless family anecdotes about Auntie So-and-So, whose knaidlach were like cannonballs, as opposed to Auntie-Such-and-Such, whose knaidlach were as light as a feather. Actually, they’re very easy to make, and it’s quite hard to go wrong. My recipe is adapted from the one which appears in Evelyn Rose’s Jewish Cookbook. If you want to, you can add other embellishments – some chopped parsley, a bit of ground ginger or whatever.

Stage 1: making your stock
  1. Put your roast chicken carcass and the juices from the roasting dish in a large pot. (Don’t worry if the juices are oily.) Set aside any leftover meat from the bird (breast, legs, oysters from the back) but remove any skin and bones to add to the pot. Cover the carcass with water (but only just). Bring to the boil, reduce to minimum and simmer for at least an hour.
  2. Allow to cool, strain the stock through a colander or sieve into a large bowl, cover and leave in the fridge. Discard the carcass. The next day you should have a bowl of jellified stock, covered with a thin layer of solidified fat.
Stage 2: rendering your chicken fat
  1. Skim the fat off the top of the bowl and place in a small saucepan, for which you have a lid. (This chicken fat is the original schmaltz which has made its way into the English language with the meaning sentimental.)
  2. Place the saucepan over a low heat, and as soon as it starts to spit, place the lid over it, but leaving it slightly off so that the steam can escape as any water trapped in the fat evaporates. Once the fat has stopped spitting (probably after about 10 minutes), pour the fat into a small bowl, leave to cool, and transfer to the fridge so that it solidifies completely. This chicken fat was a basic cooking ingredient (as were a range of animal fats across Europe, including goose, pig and beef fat). It’s not the healthiest cooking medium, but helps adds flavour to the knaidlach below.
Stage 3: making your knaidlach

2 eggs
3 tablespoons of chicken fat
4 tablespoons of chicken stock
1 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of ground almonds
10 to 12 tablespoons of medium matzo meal (in Spain, I use breadcrumbs, which are sold in all supermarkets and bakeries)

  1. Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt and set to boil.
  2. Beat the eggs thoroughly with a whisk. Stir in the rest of the ingredients with a spoon, leaving out the last two tablespoons of matzo meal, just in case. The mixture should now be just stiff enough to easily be formed into balls. If the mixture is too loose, then add some more of the matzo meal. If it is too stiff, then add a little more stock. (It’s important that the mixture is not too stiff at this stage.)
  3. Once the water in your pan is boiling, reduce the heat to medium, roll the knaidlach mixture into marble-sized balls, and add them to the water as you go. Once you have added all the knaidlach to the water, cover the pan, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes before adding to the stock (see below).

Putting it all together
  1. Heat the stock in a large pan. Using a slotted spoon, remove the knaidlach from the water in which they have been cooked, and add to the chicken stock. Simmer gently for another couple of minutes and serve.
(You can add carrots and other things to the stock if you want, but I think it is best served just the way it is.)

Slow-roasted chicken

Roast chicken is one of those dishes where there is a conflict between the visual appearance and the taste. While nothing looks nicer than a golden, oven-roasted chicken, to my mind the classic way of roasting chicken leaves the breast meat a bit dry. There are ways of mitigating this – stuffing the chicken, roasting it breast down and turning it halfway through, basting it etc. – but I think the method below produces a far tastier result, for less work.

1 chicken
seasoning mixture (see below)

  1. On a large chopping board, place a large sheet of silver foil crosswise, and another one over it lengthwise. Then place the chicken on top.
  2. Make several cuts in the chicken (to the breast, back and legs) to allow the flavours of your seasoning to penetrate the meat.
  3. Rub the chicken all over with your seasoning mixture (see below).
  4. Close the foil over the chicken, and wrap it in another layer of foil before placing the chicken parcel breast upwards in a roasting tray.
  5. Place the chicken in the oven and turn it on at 150°C.
  6. Cook for at least 6 hours.
  7. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before carving and serving. The legs and wings are best eaten with your fingers.
If you have time, do steps 1 to 4 the day before you plan to cook the chicken, and leave the flavours to soak in, but this is not essential. Similarly, the cooking times are not precise. My timings here are based on putting the chicken in the oven at breakfast time and having it ready for a late Spanish lunch. My mum cooks it for longer at a slightly lower heat – it can even be cooked overnight.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to uncover the chicken for the last 20 minutes or so to brown the chicken, as you will undo all your hard work and dry out the white meat.

Seasoning mixture
You can season this with just about anything. Because the chicken is wrapped in foil, it stays moist, so you don’t need to use oil, but you should use plenty of salt to help make the skin nice and crisp. Here are a few suggestions:
  • mustard, garlic, salt and pepper
  • salt, pepper, rosemary and balsamic vinegar
  • a good quality curry powder or spice mix
  • ginger, ground coriander, garlic and salt
  • lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper

This method is basically one I learnt from my mother. I assume that the original method was to cook it covered in a pot, and I’m sure it was the only way to roast a (relatively young) bird back in the days before modern farming produced the soft slobby chickens which are generally sold today. Chicken is one thing which I think it’s really worth spending a bit more on in order to buy free range. When I bought my chicken from the butcher in the market and told him not to cut it into portions because I was going to roast it whole, he blanched and politely told me that he really didn’t think it was a good idea. “This is a country chicken,” he explained, “not like the ones you get in the supermarket. You can’t roast it – it’ll be too tough.” But it came out perfectly – meaty but tender, with lots of flavour.

Coffee and spice honey cake

This is traditionally associated with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). This recipe is based on the one given by Evelyn Rose in The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, which is really a Mrs Beeton’s for the Jewish housewife of the 1970s. It even has a section on how to organise dinner parties which contains the following invaluable tip: “… the Jewish woman is expected to entertain in a more sophisticated fashion than ever before, paying attention to the flowers, the décor and the table accoutrements as well as to the food that she sets before her guests.” Sound advice indeed!

225g plain flour
170g demerara sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
250g clear honey
100g sunflower oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
100ml strong black coffee
50g chopped walnuts

  1. Set the oven to 170°C, and prepare either one large tin (an 8-inch round tin is fine) or two loaf tins, by lining the bottoms with baking paper and greasing the sides.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, spices and baking powder. Add the honey, oil and eggs and beat until smooth. Add the coffee and the walnuts and mix in.
  3. Pour the batter into the tin(s) and bake for 85 minutes.
This cake keeps very well, and actually improves during the first week or so. I usually only make one round cake, so it never lasts that long, but if you make two smaller loaves then you can wrap one in foil once it’s cool and set it aside.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Scotch pancakes

I make these for breakfast at the weekends. (And sometimes during the week too, if I'm feeling extra nice.)

200g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
300g milk
2 eggs

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well using a whisk. Transfer the batter to a large jug.
  2. Heat a good sized non-stock frying pan, with a little oil. Once the pan is hot, pour the batter in so that it forms small circles. When the pancake is golden brown underneath, and bubbles have formed on top, flip it over and cook the other side for another 30 seconds or so.
  3. Serve with your favourite topping: maple syrup, honey, lemon and sugar, melted chocolate.

Spicy fried chicken livers

This is a really simple way to cook chicken livers. Unfortunately, it can be quite hard to get fresh chicken liver in the UK, and the frozen ones are only good for making pate with. It’s important not to overcook the liver, otherwise it goes leathery – like a good steak, it should still be slightly pink.

250g fresh chicken livers
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
olive oil

  1. Remove any fatty tissue and cut the livers into three pieces.
  2. Put the liver in a bowl, sprinkle the chilli powder, cumin and salt over them, and rub in well. If you have time, cover the bowl and leave to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
  3. Coat the chicken in flour.
  4. Heat plenty of oil in a large frying pan. (If you don’t have a spatter guard, then make sure you use a pan with a lid, as the livers tend to spit a little.)
  5. Carefully add the floured pieces to the pan, cook for a couple of minutes, until brown and crispy, then turn and cook for another minute or two.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on kitchen paper before serving.

I was brought up to regard liver as being quite unpleasant (although I ate both pate and chopped liver). It was only when I left home that I realised what I had been missing.

For this dish, I usually use berbere spice blend from Seasoned Pioneers, but you can use pretty much whatever spices you want. Because there is no sauce and the spices are protected by a layer of flour, you need to use quite large quantities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Braised chicory with spicy peanut sauce

Chicory is one of those vegetables that no one seems quite sure what to do with. In Spain, it is typically served either raw or only slightly cooked with blue cheese, but I’d have to say that the result manages to be both bitter and bland at the same time. In the following recipe it is braised and then served with a really spicy sauce. If you like it milder, then just reduce the amount of chilli. However, the oiliness of the peanut butter and the coconut balance out the chilli quite well.

This recipe is my version of something first cooked for me by a Canadian friend, Lesley. It's very simple, and the sauce would also go well with all kinds of other vegetables: steamed cauliflower, shredded stir-fried cabbage, braised leeks etc.

4 heads of chicory
stock or water
sunflower oil
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of chilli powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
100 g of good quality smooth peanut butter
½ tin of coconut milk

  1. Remove any brownish outer leaves from the chicory, and cut off the very bottom of them (but don’t cut away too much, otherwise the chicory won’t hold together). Put the chicory heads in a saucepan and just cover with good quality stock or some water. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to minimum, then simmer until done. (Around 15 minutes.) Turn off the heat, but keep the chicory in the braising liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Peel the garlic, chop it roughly, and then pound it to a paste in a pestle and mortar with a little salt.
  3. Put a little sunflower oil in a saucepan, add the garlic paste and cook for 30 seconds or so, add the chilli powder, stir and fry for a few more seconds.Add the sugar, vinegar and soy sauce, and continue to stir and heat until the sugar is dissolved. 
  4. Add the peanut butter (good quality only – just check the ingredients) and coconut milk and continue to heat while stirring until all the peanut butter is mixed in. If the sauce is a little thick at this point, then add some of the liquid from the chicory.
  5. Place the cooked chicory into the pan with the sauce, reduce the heat to minimum and cook for a couple more minutes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sweet and sour sticky spare ribs

The problem with spare ribs is that they need a lot of cooking and that they're very fatty, so you need to find a way of making them tender but also getting rid of some of the fat. I came up with this method, which involves cooking the spare ribs in sauce first, then taking them out of the sauce, allowing the sauce to cool so the fat solidifies on top and can be easily skimmed off. You have to do it in advance (to allow for the cooking-cooling-skimming-reheating cycle). Or you could skim the fat off when the sauce is still hot, or even pour it into one of those nifty gravy separating jugs which allows you to drain the juices out of the bottom.

1 kg of pork spare ribs, cut into smallish pieces
Sunflower oil
2 cloves of garlic, mashed to a paste in a pestle and mortar with a little salt
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
50 ml of dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of red wine
250 ml of water

  1. In a large saucepan, brown the ribs in some sunflower oil. Add the garlic paste, and fry for a few seconds.
  2. Add the ground ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, wine and water.
  3. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan, reduce to minimum and cook until the ribs are very tender (about 2½ hours).
  4. Remove the ribs from the pan with a slotted spoon, and set aside.
  5. Pour all the sauce into a measuring jug, and leave to cool in the fridge so that the fat on top of the sauce goes white and solid.
  6. Remove the solid fat from the measuring jug, return the remaining sauce and the ribs to the pan and heat through.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sweet and sour pig’s trotters

This is an adapted version of a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The oloroso sherry is a little local touch, but definitely goes well with the sweet and sour effect.

Pig's trotters (or cow's hooves) are not generally eaten in the UK, although I'm sure they used to be. As a child, I vividly remember my friends’ Lebanese-Egyptian dad, Tony Kanaan, eating soup with a big cow’s hoof sitting in the middle of his bowl.

4 pigs’ trotters
Sunflower oil
3 cloves of garlic, mashed to a paste in a pestle and mortar with a little salt
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
100 ml of dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 tablespoons of wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of dry oloroso sherry

  1. Ask your butcher to split the trotters lengthwise down the middle, then cut them across the way so that each trotter is cut into 4 pieces.
  2. In a large saucepan, brown the trotter pieces in some sunflower oil.
  3. Add the garlic paste, and fry for a few seconds.
  4. Add the ground ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, wine vinegar, and sherry.
  5. Add enough water to cover the pigs’ trotters.
  6. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan, reduce to minimum and cook until the trotters are very tender (about 2½ hours).
  7. Remove the trotters from the pan and set aside.
  8. Simmer the cooking liquid slowly until it is syrupy.
  9. Return the trotters to the pan and heat through.

According to Hugh, “Not everyone likes pig’s trotters … This is the perfect dish to make enthusiastic converts of sceptics.” Having tried it out on a tableful of sceptics, I can’t say I agree, as I was left feeling like a Jehovah’s Witness who has just had the door slammed firmly in his face. At least I was able to console myself with a large bowl of sweet and sour pig’s trotters all to myself!

Spicy fried rock salmon, marinated in vinegar (cazón en adobo)

If there is one dish which is typical of Cadiz, then this is it. We live next door to the busiest fish fryer in town, but they have a pretty effective extraction system, so we only really notice it when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Rock salmon is just another name for dogfish, which is a type of small shark. The flesh is usually sold as a pinkish 'log', which is just the body of the shark, minus skin, fins and innards. The fishmonger will then cut this into thinnish steaks for you.

Ingredients500g of rock salmon steaks (or any white fish fillets)
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
½ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Plain flour
Olive oil for frying

  1. Crush the garlic in a pestle and mortar. Mix the garlic, oregano, spices and salt with the vinegar and oil in a small bowl.
  2. Rub the fish steaks with the marinate mixture, place in a large bowl, cover, and leave in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Put plenty of flour on a plate, and coat the fish steaks with it.
  4. In a large frying pan, heat plenty of olive oil (about 0.5 cm deep).
  5. Once the oil is fairly hot (but not too hot), place the fish steaks in the oil. (You'll probably need do three or four batches.)
  6. Fry for a couple of minutes, until a golden red colour, then turn and fry for another minute or so.
Unlike the simple fried fish, this one doesn’t keep so well because it doesn’t have the crunchy outer coating of the breadcrumbs, so don’t make more than you can eat in one sitting.

Simple fried fish in breadcrumbs

This is something I remember my grandma making. It’s great served hot, with chips, but it's also delicious cold the next day. I always make large quantities so there will be some left over for snacks or picnics. There was usually a large tupperware container of it in my grandma's fridge, which I would sometimes raid during the middle of the night, and the smell of it still transports me immediately back to her kitchen in Parkhill Road.

I can’t get haddock in my local market in Cadiz, so I usually use John Dory fillets, also known as St Pierre, supposedly because the mark on its side was made by Saint Peter’s thumb. The matzo meal is replaced with breadcrumbs.

Ingredients500g of haddock fillets (or any other firm white fish)
Plain flour
½ teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
Breadcrumbs (or medium matzo meal)
Sunflower oil for frying

  1. Take two dinner plates and a soup plate. Put plenty of flour on one of the plates and mix the salt into it, put plenty of breadcrumbs onto the other plate, and crack two eggs into soup plate.
  2. Cut the fillets in half, lengthwise.
  3. Coat the fillets in flour, then dip in the egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.
  4. In a large frying pan, heat plenty of sunflower oil (about 1 cm deep).
  5. Once the oil is fairly hot (but not too hot), place the breaded fillets in the oil. (You'll probably need do three or four batches.)
  6. Fry for a couple of minutes, until golden, then turn and fry for another minute or so.
Any fish which is not going to be eaten straight away should be left to cool on kitchen paper before being stored in the fridge. It keeps for a few days (if it lasts that long).