Saturday, June 23, 2012

Squirrel sauce for pasta

I usually jump at the chance to eat something new, so when I noticed some grey squirrel meat for sale at Edinburgh's Stockbridge Market I decided to give it a try. It looked fairly rabbity, so I decided to give it the same treatment and make a squirrel version of the classic Tuscan pasta dish, pappardelle sulla lepre (pappardelle with hare sauce). It was good - less meat than rabbit but more flavour. I even made some fresh pasta to go with it but, like a great klutz, managed to delete all the photos! Fortunately I had this one in my library:

2 grey squirrels, quartered
500ml red wine
6 cloves
olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tinned tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tbsps tomato puree
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper


  1. Marinade the squirrel with the red wine and cloves overnight.
  2. The next day, fry the onion in plenty of olive oil, and when nearly done add the finely chopped garlic.
  3. Add the squirrel together with its marinading liquid, bring to a boil, turn to minimum and simmer gently for 2 hours, until the squirrel is very tender.
  4. Remove the squirrel from the pan, set aside and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, tomato puree and salt to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer gently until you have a thick sauce.
  6. Remove the squirrel meat from the bone (it's easiest just to pick it off with your fingers), return to the pan and cook slowly for another 5 minutes. Season with freshly ground black pepper before serving.

Potsticker wuntuns

I've been making wuntuns on and off for over 25 years but have only recently solved the dilemma of whether to fry, steam or boil. I like the crispiness of frying, but I also like the juiciness of steaming or boiling. Fortunately, there is a solution - potsticking!

500g minced pork
2 rashers of streaky bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1tbsp rice wine
4 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg
1/2 tsp cornflour
1 packet of wuntun wrappers (32 skins)
  1. Mix all of the filling ingredients in a large bowl, mix well, cover, and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  2. Take one wrapper, place a sausage-shaped portion of the mixture in the centre (about 1 teaspoon), and shape to form a mini springroll by tucking the edges in, rolling and sealing the final edge with a little water.
  3. When you have shaped all the dumplings, heat a little oil in a large non-stick frying pan for which you have a lid, fill the pan with a layer of tightly packed dumplings, turm the heat to medium low, spray the dumplings generously with water, and cover.
  4. After about five minutes, the dumplings should be cooked underneath and stuck together in a layer. Flip them over by inverting the pan over a plate, then slide the dumplings back into the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, spray with a little more water, cover the pan, and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the dumplings are crisply underneath.
  5. Transfer the cooked dumplings to a plate and serve.
What? No picture
I was sure I had taken loads of pictures of this at every stage, but weirdly enough I can't find them anywhere. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chinese steamed and roasted duck

We all went to a Chinese/Japanese noodle place the other day, and Carmela was very disappointed when the duck she ordered didn't come shredded and served with pancakes, so I promised to remedy this at the earliest opportunity. Yesterday we went to the Edinburgh Farmer's Market and picked up a whole duck from Gartmorn Farm. Apparently making authentic Peking duck is a complicated process, involving scalding, pumping air between skin and flesh, and air-drying over several days, among other things, so I settled for a slightly simpler (and quicker) steam-and-roast routine.

1 large duck (2.5 to 3 kg)
dry marinade
1 tbsp five spice powder
2 tsps demerara sugar
2 tsps salt
peel of 1 orange, sliced
6 thick slices of fresh ginger
6 spring onions, peeled and chopped into 2cm lengths
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
basting sauce
50 ml rice vinegar
100 ml clear honey
100 ml dark soy sauce


  1. Mix the dry marinade ingredients together. Dry the duck thoroughly with paper towel, and pat the marinade all over the outside and inside of the duck. (You can do this the day before if you are feeling leisurely.)
  2. Mix the stuffing ingredients and insert into the cavity of the duck.
  3. Place the duck on a V-rack in a roasting tin, pour a little boiling water into the bottom of the tin, and cover the whole assemblage with tinfoil (sealing to make sure it is reasonably steamproof), Place the tin on top of the stove, on a gentle heat, and steam for 45 minutes. Check the water level from time to time, and top up if required.
  4. Set the oven to 200oC.
  5. Meanwhile, mix the basting sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to minimum and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  6. Once the duck has finished steaming, remove the foil from the top, baste generously, and transfer to the preheated oven.
  7. Bake for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes.
  8. When the duck is cooked, remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Carve and serve with Chinese pancakes, spring onions, cucumber sticks, and plum sauce.

Ducks and dogs
We also took our labrador, Ronia, to the farmer's market, where she was petted by all and sundry, and ate out royally on fried onions (at the burger stand), some bits of pork crackling (from the hog roast), a stray sausage, and a pork bone. The next day we went to Cramond, where she promptly dived into the water in pursuit of some fresh duck. She came back empty-mouthed, but I decided to give her the neck and giblets from this one as compensation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lamb rogan josh

I've cooked various versions of this dish over the years, but have never committed any to my blog. This is based on the version in Food of the Grand Trunk Road. I have replaced the yogurt in the original recipe with whipped cream, just because that was what I had in the fridge.

1kg of boneless lamb chunks
4 tbsps vegetable oil
4 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tin of tomatoes
500 ml water
1 tsp salt
100g whipped cream


  1. Put the oil in a saucepan, together with the cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon, and heat gently for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the onions, and fry for a few minutes until they begin to brown, then add the ginger and garlic and fry for another 30 seconds or so.
  3. Add the ground spices, fry for 30 seconds, then add the meat and brown all over.
  4. Add the tomatoes, water and salt, bring to a boil, cover and simmer on a very low heat for 2 hours, until the lamb is tender.
  5. Add the whipped cream, mix through and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
And he played upon a ladle ...
I was in a cafe today with my kids and Carmela opened up a little sachet of demerara sugar. I had to make a big effort not to start singing "Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, down in Demerara". It left me wondering whether kids at school today even sing these songs. (Mine are home educated, so I can't ask them.)

Another song from my primary school repertoire was Aiken Drum - "And he played upon a ladle, and his name was Aiken Drum". (This is a Scottish one, I think.) And that reminded me of a funny article I once read by an Indian recounting how he had become obsessed with British food. What most worried his parents was the fact that none of the dishes could be served up with a ladle.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spicy braised chicken (murgh musallam)

I hadn't realised quite what a cloud I had been under until I handed in the last file of the huge translation job I have been working on throughout April. All of a sudden I have time again! So I decided to celebrate by making a rather elaborate braised chicken from my book of the moment, Food of the Grand Trunk Road. I simplified a little (the version in the book has even more ingredients than the one here), and replaced two poussin with a single chicken. I also toned down the heat a lot to placate Carmela, indicated by the 'optional' chillis and chilli powder, a term which has always struck me as ridiculous in a recipe, but I couldn't think of an alternative.

1 chicken

For the marinade
2 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp mined garlic
4 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
juice of 1 lemon

For the stuffing
2 eggs
100g chicken mince
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
10 g ground almonds
1 finely chopped green chilli (optional)
1tsp chilli powder (optional)
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp salt

For the sauce
vegetable oil
2 onions
4 tbsps of whipped cream (or use yoghurt)
3 bay leaves
4 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick

2 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
1 tin of peeled tomatoes
50 g ground almonds
500 ml water
a few drops of kewra water (or rose water)
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander
pinch of saffron strands
1/4 tsp ground mace


  1. Make a few slashes in the chicken. Mix the marinade ingredients together, rub all over the chicken and leave to marinade for a couple of hours or overnight.
  2. Steam the eggs for 10 minutes until they are hardboiled. Cool and peel.
  3. Mix the mince and the rest of the stuffing ingredients together, and wrap the eggs in the mince mixture. Insert the stuffed eggs into the chicken's cavity.
  4. Set the oven to 200oC.
  5. Heat a little oil in a large, ovenproof saucepan or casserole and brown the chicken all over. Set aside.
  6. Roughly chop the onions, fry in vegetable oil until golden. Allow to cool a little, then transfer to a food processor and whizz with the whipped cream.
  7. Strain the tomatoes, chop finely in a food processor, and set aside.
  8. Put a little more oil in the pan, add the bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon and heat gently for 1 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic, fry gently for another minute or so, then add the salt, tomatoes and onion and cream mixture, and cook gently for 5 minutes.
  9. Add the almonds and water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
  10. Return the chicken to the pan, gently simmer for 5 minutes, spooning the sauce over it, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
  11. Cook for 2 hours, until the chicken is really tender, turning the chicken every 45 minutes or so (so it spends 1/3 of the time on its back, and 1/3 on each of the breast sides).
  12. Remove the pot from the oven, remove the chicken to a serving dish, and continue cooking the sauce on top of the stove until it has reduced by about half.
  13. Add the fresh coriander, saffron and mace, and cook for another 2 minutes.
  14. Remove the eggs from inside the chicken and cut in half, lengthwise. Carve the chicken, and pour the sauce over the top.

Scotch eggs
I love finding connections between different cuisines, and as I wrapped the hardboiled egg in mince I couldn't help thinking "Scotch eggs." Nobody seems to know the origin of these, and whether they are even Scottish, but it strikes me as perfectly possible that they are an Anglo-Indian concoction, like mulligatawny soup.

...and haggis spice
When Sammy walked into the kitchen while this dish was cooking, his first comment was, "It smells like haggis in here," which I thought was pretty perceptive, as mace - which features heavily in this dish - is also the key spice in haggis.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Parsley pesto

There was a big bag of parsley in our veggie box this week, so I decided to make some parsley pesto.

a bag of parsley
a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts
a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese
a good splash of olive oil
a handful of capers
a good squeeze of lemon juice

Wash the parsley, lightly toast the pine nuts, and remove the stems from the capers. Put all of the ingredients in the food processor and whizz until you have a smooth paste. Check the seasoning and adjust with a little more lemon juice, salt or pepper if required.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Green mango chutney

I´ve just realised that I haven't posted any new recipes at all for the month of March. It's not because I haven't been cooking, though. Here is a delicious green mango chutney that comes (like a lot of things recently) from Food of the Grand Trunk Road.

1 kg unripe green mangoes
100 ml sunflower oil
1 teaspoon panch phoran
1 green or red chilli
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
125g grated jaggery
100g water


  1. Wash the mangoes, then remove the flesh from the stone by cutting them lengthwise into thin segments (leaving the skin on) then crosswise into small pieces. Deseed the chillies, and chop finely.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the panch phoran, fry until it crackles, then add the mango, chilli, spices and water, stir well, bring to a boil, then turn heat to minimum and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until the mango has softened, stirring regularly towards the end to make sure that the mixture doesn't stick.
  3. Add the grated jaggery, stir well, and simmer gently for a few more minutes until the jaggery is thoroughly dissolved.
  4. Transfer to sterilised jars and seal while still hot.
This recipe has evolved a little since I first cooked it. The original version produced more or of an Indian pickle - with large pieces of mango, plenty of heat from the chillies, and slightly tough skin. It tasted great, but I decided that I preferred something a little closer to a British-style chutney, so I cut the mango smaller, used more water and a longer cooking time, and cut down on the chillis.


One of the underrated aspects of British food culture is our tradition of home baking. These flapjacks are really easy to make, and taste delicious. If you want, you can jazz them up a bit with some ginger or dried fruits.

200g unsalted butter
200g demerara sugar
200g honey
400g porridge oats

  1. Line and grease a swiss roll tine and set the oven to 180oC.
  2. Put the butter, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add the porridge oats, mix well, and transfer to the prepared tin.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out and cut into squares.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moist chocolate cake

This has been our standard chocolate cake for a few years now, but I decided to revisit it and add a couple of notes about the tin and the cooking time, together with posting some new photos. This cake should be really moist - not just in the middle but almost out to the edge. There's no point doing the skewer test on it - that will simply tell you that you should have taken it out of the oven 15 minutes ago! Also, it is important to use a small tin for this, so that the cake is quite high. I bake this in a tin which originally contained a Glenfiddich Christmas cake, and which is 16cm in diameter.

150g butter
250g dark chocolate (>70% cocoa solids)
150g demerara sugar
5 medium eggs
100g plain flour

  1. Set the oven to 180oC and line your cake tin with greased baking paper.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces, place in a large bowl with the butter and sugar, and heat in a bain marie until melted.
  3. Separate the eggs. Add the yolk and flour to the chocolate mixture, and beat thoroughly.
  4. Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Mix a couple of spoonfuls into the chocolate mixture, then fold the rest in gently but thoroughly.
  5. Pour into the tin and bake for 25 minutes.

Date and tomato chutney

I have been making a lot of 'British' chutneys recently: beetroot with orange, spicy pear, and apple to name a few. This is a Bengali date and tomato chutney. Unlike the British versions, Indian chutneys are not made for long-term storage, and so have a higher fruit or vegetable content to sugar and vinegar. This is another recipe from the Grand Trunk Road, although I have adapted it quite a lot.

300g stoned dates
vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 large, fresh red chilli, finely chopped
a few curry leaves
3 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsps muscovado sugar
3 tbsps wine vinegar


  1. Soak the dates in warm water for 30 minutes, drain and chop roughly.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil gently in a frying pan. When hot, add the mustard seeds and fry until they pop. Add the chilli, curry leaves, and ginger and fry for 30 seconds or so.
  3. Then add the chilli powder, cumin and black pepper and fry for a few more seconds before adding the chopped tomatoes, dates, sugar and vinegar. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes until thickened.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bengali chicken wraps

As I  continue to putter my around Calcutta before striking out on the GTR, I thought it would be good to fill up on some Bengali street food. I made these partly with Carmela in mind, although I should confess that she found them a little too spicy.

6 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 onions, thinly sliced
2 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsps ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 kg boneless chicken thigh meat (or breast), sliced thinly
1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes
200 ml water
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add the cumin seeds, allow them to pop, then add the onions and fry until golden.
  2. Add the ginger and garlic, fry for another 30 secods, then add the chilli, ground coriander, turmeric and salt, and fry for a few seconds.
  3. Add the chicken, stir well so it is coated with spicy onion mixture and fry for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and the water, and cook on a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked.
  4. Sprinkle over the garam masala and fresh coriander.
  5. Serve on a freshly made egg paratha (or a shop-bought alternative!)

Oriental coleslaw

This is another recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg every day! I have tweaked it a little, including the addition of some fish sauce, which would have violated Hugh's strict "veg only" rule.

2 carrots
1 small white cabbage (proportions should be about 1 part carrot to 2 parts cabbage)
2 tbsps light soy sauce
2 tbsps fish sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsps minced ginger
2 tbsps rice vinegar
2 tbsps sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander


  1. Julienne the carrots and slice the cabbage very fine, and put into a large bowl.
  2. Mix together the soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil and lime juice. Pour over the carrot and cabbage, toss thoroughly and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Before serving, sprinkle with the fresh coriander. 

Baby aubergine cooked with pickling spices

I still haven't made it out of Bengal and onto the GTR proper. The other night we had our friends from across the road (Sergio and Simon) over for supper, and decided to double up and invite our new neighbours from across the landing (Alistair and Rhona) who by complete coincidence are friends of Sergio and Simon. The world, as we Spaniards say, is a handkerchief.

I decided to make this aubergine curry. I have been making a version of this for nearly 30 years, as it is one of my favourite recipes in Madhur Jaffrey's BBC Indian Cookery. Her version has the splendid title "The Lake Palace Hotel's aubergine cooked in the pickling style", but I have to say that this version (from Food of Grand Trunk Road by Anirudh Arora and Hardeep Singh Kohli), made with baby aubergine, was even better. I have to confess to simplifying it a little.

1 kg baby aubergines
vegetable oil
1/2 tsp panch phoran
4 green chillies
2 onions, finely chopped
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsps amchoor (dried mango powder)
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps muscovado sugar
2 tbsps of chopped coriander leaves


  1. Slice the aubergines lengthwise but not all the way through, so that they are still joined by the stem and a bit of flesh at the top.
  2. Heat plenty of oil in a non-stick pan and fry the aubergines gently until they are almost cooked. Remove from pan.
  3. In the same oil (remove some of it if there is too much, or add some more if most has been absorbed by the aubergines!), add the panch phoran and fry until it crackles. Then add the green chillies and the onions and fry gently until the onions start to brown.  
  4. Add the chilli, coriander, amchoor, garam masala, turmeric and salt, fry for 30 seconds or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and fry for 10 minutes, until the oil begins to separate out.
  5. Add the friend aubergines, lemon juice and sugar and cook for about 5 minutes, adding a little water if too dry.
  6. Sprinkle with coriander leaves.

Mild egg curry

If I'm making an Indian meal with a couple of spicy dishes, I generally try to make something really mild for my kids so that they aren't left just eating plain white rice. The spicing in this is so mild that I hesitate to call it a curry at all, but it makes a great foil for hotter food.

12 eggs
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tsps minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tin coconut milk
small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
juice of 1 lemon

  1. Steam the eggs for 10 minutes, then allow to cool. Peel and cut in half lengthwise.
  2. In a large frying pan, fry the onion gently in plenty of oil. When it is cooked but not brown, add the ginger and garlic and fry for another minute. Add the curry powder and salt, fry for another 30 seconds or so, then add the coconut milk.
  3. Simmer for about 5 minutes, add the chopped coriander and lemon juice, stir to mix, then add the eggs, yolk side up. Spoon the sauce over the eggs and simmer very gently for another 5 minutes.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hedgehog and fox

This is not a British bush tucker recipe for dealing with some of our local mammalian fauna. Nor is it a recipe for one of those traditional dishes, such as "toad in the hole" or "pigs in blankets" whose name belies the ingredients.

I am afraid today I have decided to wax philosophical. In his essay about Tolstoy, Isaaiah Berlin used the Greek proverb "the fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog knows only one but he does it well" as a starting point for his analysis of the theory of history presented in War and Peace.

My blog strives for a certain foxy quality. Recent posts have included marmalade, Bengali fish curry, parsnip and ginger soup, and pickled pears. And yet in the kitchen I am as much hedgehog as fox. Along with all the jams, soups, stews, snacks, pickles and curries, there is the daily ritual of breadmaking using natural yeast. I have almost given up writing about this (at least for the time being); not because there is nothing to say but rather because I find it so hard to explain this trick to those who do not already know it themselves.

I can write a recipe for a curry, a soup or even a pickle, and I know that a vaguely competent cook will be able to follow it and produce something similar and quite probably better. But however carefully I explain the technique of working with wet dough, how to tell when it has proved, how to shape the loaves and assess whether they are ready to bake, how to slash them and transfer them to the oven, I know from experience that the only person who has any hope of following this to produce a good loaf of bread is somebody who is already an accomplished baker. I guess it just involves too much implicit knowledge, and too much skill which is not part of everyday kitchen activity to be something you can communicate in writing.

This difference is also reflected in my attitude to books. I love cookbooks and generally have at least two newish ones on the go in my kitchen, from which I draw inspiration. However, I have only ever bought one bread book (Peter Bertinett's marvelous Crust) and although I have learnt a great deal from it, I have only every cooked one of the breads from it. And so the many fine bread books out there - English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard, etc., etc. - hold no appeal for me whatsoever.Why? Because my own breadmaking is about perfecting one type of bread. I use a wettish dough, made primarily with white flour (with admixtures of about 10% wholemeal flour, malted flour, rye flour or oat flakes or combinations of them), leavened with a natural yeast starter, generally with a slow first proving and a faster second rising, and baked in a very hot oven.

I improvise and experiment a little around this formula and occasionally branch out into other things like pizza or focaccia, but I have absolutely no desire to make a different kind of bread for each day of the week.Indeed, the very idea goes against the grain of the deliberately repetitive process of perfecting one type of bread which, for me, is the essence of breadmaking. 

Anyway, I shall stop writing now. My inner hedgehog is telling me that it is time to slash my sourdough batards and put them in the oven. And my inner fox is reminding me that I have to nip out and buy some wonton wrappers (for chinese dumplings), fresh coriander (for Bengali chicken wraps) and margarine (for flapjacks).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Carrot and lentil soup

Carrots and lentils are a great combination, but I often find that carrot and lentil soup is either a little bland or suffers from unsubtle spicing (usually due to a heavy hand with the cumin). I made this soup with great care and was really happy with the outcome - the celery gave it a little spiciness, the peppers added sweetness and depth, while the smoky paprika and the dried mushroom stock provided an earthy kick. Unfortunately I didn't measure anything so the quantities are somewhat approximate.

olive oil
half a head of celery
1 red pepper
2 tsps smoked paprika
4 large carrots
handful of dried mushrooms
1 vegetable stock cube
1 litre of boiled water
2 handfuls of lentils
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in the boiled water, and add the vegetable stock cube.
  2. Finely chop the celery and red pepper and fry gently in plenty of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the peeled chopped carrots, continue to fry for a few more minutes before adding the paprika.
  3. Strain the stock into the pot, add the lentils, bring to the boil and simmer gently until lentils and carrots are cooked, then add the salt.
  4. Allow the soup to cool a little, liquidise with a stick blender, check the salt and season with some freshly ground black pepper.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Parsnip, apple and ginger fritters

We have been slightly inundated with parsnips recently, as during the winter months they have become a permanent fixture in our veggie box. I like them roasted and was also quite happy with a parsnip and ginger soup, but feeling in need of further inspiration I turned to a book I bought a while back, The Painted Garden Cookbook. It's a lovely book, illustrated with watercolours by the author, but somehow I haven't used it as much as I expected I would. These were really nice - the parsnip and ginger combination (again) proved a winner, and the texture was great.

750g parsnips
3 apples, preferably something tart like Cox or Braeburn
1 tsp minced ginger
50g plain flour
1 egg
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil


  1. Set the oven to 200oC and oil a non-stick baking tray. Heat about an inch of water in a pot.
  2. Top and tail and peel the parsnips, quarter them and put them in the boiling water, cover and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Peel and core the apples.
  4. Chop the parsnips and the apples very finely (or dice them in a food processor). Put them in a bowl, and add the flour, egg, salt and pepper.
  5. Shape the mixture into burgers, and place on the baking tray. Drizzle plenty of olive oil over the top of them, and bake for 30 minutes, turning after 15.

Bengali fish and potato curry

Next stop on my journey along the Great Trunk Road is a bengali fish and potato curry. Having promised myself to keep my tweaking to a minimum, I promptly broke my word on this one. The original recipe in Food of the Great Trunk Road was for kofee aloo jhol which means, I think, fish with potatoes and cauliflower. However, my kids aren't great cauliflower fans and I didn't think this seemed like the recipe to convert anyone, so I left out the cauliflower. I also replaced the recommended fish (bass) with a whole hake which I bought from my local fishmonger, and I replaced the water in the recipe with some stock. I was really pleased with the end result, and also enjoyed the fact that I had inadvertently created a Bengali version of a Spanish standby, hake with potatoes. (I thought I had already blogged this, but apparently I haven't.)

This is now the third recipe I have cooked from Food of the Great Trunk Road, and I'm very happy with my slightly obsessive decision to cook my way through it cover to cover (skipping any recipes I'm not in the mood for). The book itself is organised geographically, and following it like this means that I am already acquiring a feel for the signature Bengali ingredients of mustard oil and onion seeds, neither of which I had really appreciated before.

1 whole hake (about 1kg) - or use steaks or fillets of any reasonably firm-fleshed fish
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 kg potatoes
5 cm piece of ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 tsps water
100 ml mustard oil
2 bay leaves
3 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 tsp onion seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt (less if your stock is salty)
400 ml stock (fish if you have it, otherwise vegetable or chicken)
juice of 1 lemon

  1. Remove the head and tail of the hake, reserving to make stock with. Cut the rest of the hake into thick steaks. Mix together the chilli powder and turmeric, rub half of it on the fish steaks and set aside.
  2. Peel the potatoes and slice them crosswise into 0.5 cm thick slices. Rub the remaining chilli and turmeric on them and set aside.
  3. Peel and chop the fresh ginger, and whizz it to a fine paste with the cumin seeds and 4 tsps of water. (If you don't have a spice mill, then just grate it finely or use minced ginger, and crush the cumin in a pestle and mortar.)
  4. Heat the oil in a large pan, and fry the potato slices in batches until they are cooked and golden but still firm. Remove to a bowl.
  5. In the same oil, fry the fish steaks for a couple of minutes, then remove.
  6. Now, gently fry the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon and cloves for a minute or two, then add the onion seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so until they pop. Now add the ginger and cumin paste and stir fry for 2 minutes.
  7. Add the salt (if needed) and ground corinader, stir fry for a few seconds, then add the stock and bring to a boil.
  8. Add all the potatoes, then place the fish steaks on top, cover the pan and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the fish is just cooked.
  9. Squeeze over the lemon juice and serve.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bengali lamb and chickpea curry

I haven't been buying a lot of cookbooks recently, because I was a bit worried about becoming one of those 101 cookbooks types: the sort of person who owns shelf after shelf of cookbook and makes one dish (at most) from each. However, I made an exception just before Christmas for Anirudh Arora and Hardeep Singh Kohli's Food of the Grand Trunk Road.

I have decided to take this one at face value and actually cook my way through the book from cover to cover (skipping, of course, any recipes which don't appeal or which I think the rest of the family won't enjoy). My idea is to take a culinary road trip journey along the GTR, from Bengal to the Punjab, without moving from the comfort of my own kitchen.

We started out last week with an egg curry with potatoes (aloo dimer jhol) which I liked but would have to say was not as good as either my standard egg curry or my patended egg vindaloo cold recipe. This week, me and Sammy tried our hand at this lamb and chickpea curry (mangsho ghugni) and the result was really good, even getting a thumbs-up from Carmela.

The basic technique and spices were all familiar to me, but the mustard oil (a signature Bengali ingredient) made it subtly different from any curry I had ever cooked before. I usually tweak any recipe I cook, but this time I have decided to stay as close to the book as is possible. Although the list of ingredients is quite long, almost all of them (apart from the mustard oil) should be in the cupboard of anyone who cooks Indian food with any regularity.

400g dried chickpeas
50ml mustard oil
2 bay leaves
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspooon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1kg boneless lamb (from the leg) cut into 2.5cm chunks
2 tsps minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander


  1. Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. The next day, change the water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum from the surface, and simmer covered for 1.5 hours. Drain, and reserve the cooking liquid for later.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, fry gently for 30 seconds or so, add the cumin seeds. When the pop, add the onion and fry gently until golden.
  3. Add the lamb pieces, turn heat back up to maximum and brown.
  4. Add the garlic and the ginger, cook for 3 minutes, then add the turmeric, ground coriander, chilli powder, ground cumin and salt. Fry for another 30 seconds or so, stirring well, then add the chopped tomatoes and enough of the reserved cooking liquid from the chickpeas so that the lamb is covered by about 1 cm of water.
  5. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook on minimum for 1 hour, unitl the lamb is tender.
  6. Add the cooked chickpeas and more liquid if required to cover them, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  7. Serve, sprinkling each bowl with a little garam masala and chopped coriander.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Peanut and oatmeal dog treats

We have just acquired a dog. She is a little black labrador puppy called Ronia (named after a character in Astrid Lindgren's wonderful story Ronia the Robber's Daughter) and we are all besotted with her. She gets lots of cuddles and praise but the best way to a labrador's heart is through her stomach.

50g coarse peanut butter (salt and sugar free) 
1 tsp olive oil
185g low-salt ham or chicken stock
100g porridge oats
100g wholemeal flour
1oog plain white flour

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, mix together well and knead until you have a stiff dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool. Set the oven to 200oC.
  2. Divide the dough into two balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until it is about 1 cm thick, cut into small biscuits, and transfer to cookie sheets. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Cooking for the Queen
I have to admit I was actually quite nervous about these. Cooking for a loved one for the very first time is always a challenge because there is so much more than just a good meal at stake. While it is true that in our short time with us Ronia has not shown any signs of being a fussy eater, in some ways that only intensified the pressure. I think I can cope with the idea that my cooking may not be up to the standards of the man from the Michelin guide, but how would I feel if my biscuits were rejected by a diner who only the day before had been happily licking fresh bird poo off the garden wall? Needless to say, my fears were unfounded and Ronia wolfed them down, even becoming gratifyingly distressed when one of them disappeared between a gap in our floorboards.

Now where did that damn biscuit go?