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.