Tuesday 27 September 2011

Baby courgettes, with flowers, in chickpea and beer batter

Talking of being the least green fingered person you're ever likely to meet, I tried to move some courgette leaves off the grass the other day and completely pulled out the whole bunch, with roots and everything. I don't know how it happened. Either I'm superwoman, or courgettes are much more delicate than they look. Those massive prickly leaves and thick stalks are deceptive. And you'd think that I'd get loads of little baby courgettes out of the mishap at least, but all I got was this
Still, I managed to make that into the tastiest handful of baby courgettes I've ever eaten. The flowers themselves taste gorgeous and this dish would be nowhere near as tasty without them. I used the chickpea batter, that I was using to make la socca, except with a tiny bit of water and a lot of beer. Then I fried them for about 5min in sesame oil, turning over half-way, and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper when serving. For some reason, I didn't expect them to be very nice, coming from my unkempt garden, but they really, really were. So, the moral of the story is: if I can grow these, then so can anyone with a pair of hands. And some seeds. And earth and water

Sunday 25 September 2011

Moroccan mint tea

If any of my neighbours looked out of the window this morning and saw me kicking the door of my shed, they'd be forgiven for thinking that I don't particularly enjoy gardening. They would, however, be wrong. Despite my momentary anger at the shed door, the fact that I only do it every month (at best) and my considerable lack of green-fingered talent, it is something that gives me great pleasure. Today, for instance I found that some mint was growing near the rosemary bush. Where did it come from?
I took it as a sign that it was time to make Moroccan mint tea. I have been making this tea, ever since I went to Morocco in 2001. Of course, I've developed my own method by now, and it has been transformed into something that perhaps isn't 100% authentic, but is, nevertheless, delicious and refreshing. The main difference is that I don't sweeten it with sugar, but with honey. And I don't make it anywhere near as sweet as they do. It's a matter of taste, I guess. You take a green tea bag and put it in a pot with about three sprigs of mint and a tablespoon of honey, before covering with freshly boiled water. Allow to brew for about five minutes, then pour into individual teacups. Or small glasses, if you want to be Moroccan about it. If I'd found some pinenuts, then I would have toasted them, and let a few float on top, just like they did in Quarzazante, on the edge of the Sahara desert

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Sugar-free coconut and apricot flapjacks

When you've had the best flapjacks in the world, it's hard to then try a different recipe. There's such a massive risk of disappointment. And it feels a bit like cheating. Even though you know that the maple flapjacks will always take you back with open arms and no questions asked, it still doesn't feel quite right. Except that I've had this flapjack idea going round in my head for a while now - apricots and coconut, apricots and coconut...

3 cups oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
200g butter
1 cup agave syrup
By 1 cup, I mean approximately 200-250g. You make them as you would any other flapjacks - melt the butter, add the agave syrup, then all the dry ingredients. Mix together really well, then bake for 20-25min in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C (remember to grease the baking tray!). They are completely different to the maple ones - softer in both taste and in texture - but just as tasty and balanced. Sometimes, a risk is just worth it. I wouldn't advocate cheating, but let's just say that me and flapjacks have agreed on an open relationship

Saturday 17 September 2011

Chickpea pancakes - "la socca" from Provence

I've had one of those incredibly busy and satisfying Saturdays. I went to the doctor, did the laundry, worked on a grant application, went to an exhibition with some friends, caught up with them over a margarita, did some research at the British Library, bought a present for a mate and a lipstick pour moi (I still haven't mastered the art of buying a present for someone without buying one for myself at the same time), spent forever in Sainsbury's trying to decide what to cook this weekend (I must have looked like I was trying to pull, because a man actually approached me and started telling me about his cat - I had cat food in my basket), cleaned my kitchen and now I'm blogging. I also decided to visit Provence to eat some of their famous street food. "Flavours of Provence" (my newest library acquisition) tells me that I am now "tasting some of Provence's ancient history", and although I have never been there, I'm feeling it
It's spirit, if you like. Or just "la socca", if you don't
These chickpea pancakes are ridiculously easy to make. For 4 pancakes, you combine about 100g chickpea (gram or besan) flour, half a teaspoon of salt, some virgin olive oil, and some more sea salt and black pepper to serve. Ferguson ("Flavours of Provence") suggest a teaspoon of salt, but this was a touch too much for my palette, so I'd say start with a half, you can always make it more salty at the end. You combine the salt and flour in a bowl then start adding cold water, while whisking constantly. You need about a cup of water at a guess. The thing is, I'm like my grandma Ziuta in that I never measure ingredients and do everything by eye. What we are trying to achieve here is the consistency of a thin cream (single cream, for example). Allow to stand for 2 minutes, and check the consistency. Add more water and whisk again if you feel it's too thick. Heat some olive oil in a pan then add about 5 tablespoons of batter into the pan, making sure it spreads evenly. I did this on a medium heat. When the edges become crispy, it's ready. You never turn these pancakes over - they are supposed to be a tiny bit damp in the middle. Slide it off the frying pan, and serve with salt and black pepper. Or sugar if you prefer. These measurements are enough for two. Don't be greedy like yours truly and eat 3 soccas in one sitting. That's not the Provence way

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Peruvian quinoa stew with salsa

I have recently joined Hackney Library, which has a surprisingly wide and varied selection of cookbooks. As I am embarking on the massive project of writing a cookbook myself, I'm really interested in reading other peoples' work, seeing all the many different ways you can approach this subject, learning what I like and what I don't. Although I have read three cookbooks in the past fortnight, cover to cover, there is only one which has actually inspired me to cook something - The Food and Cooking of Peru, by Flor Arcaya de Deliot
Perhaps it's the fact that Peruvian cooking is completely new to me. They approach ingredients in a completely different way to what I'm used to, which fascinates me. I mean, have you ever thought using quinoa as a base for a stew? I know that this is something that would never have even occurred to me had I not read about it here, but I'm really, really glad that I did. The recipe down there serves four


250g quinoa
1 litre water
250ml goat's milk
60ml olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
250g feta cheese
chilli powder
salt and pepper
spring onions
lime juice

Combine the tomatoes, chilli, spring onion (all chopped) with the lime juice and some salt, to make salsa. Rinse the quinoa, then cover it with boiling water and allow to simmer, until the water has been absorbed. Slowly add the milk, stirring gently, then the oil and then the eggs. Finally, add half a teaspoon of chilli powder and sliced feta cheese. Cook for another 2 minutes stirring all the time, then serve with the tomato salsa. I substituted the normal milk for goat's milk, as (yawn) I seem to have developed a lactose intolerance after a bout of gastric flu. I won't bore you with the details, but, apparently it happens like that sometimes. Luckily, I can still eat cheese. I don't know what I'd do without cheese

Saturday 10 September 2011

Autumn plum dumplings - Knedle

Although I'm back in Autumnal London now, I still have one thing left to tell you about from Poland. It's one of my all time favourite dishes - plum dumplings. We used tiny little plums for these we call "the Hungarians", or if you want to be really precise they're the Hungarian women ("Wegierki"). Don't ask me why in Poland every food has to have a nationality, because I haven't a clue, but it is quite sweet. Unless you take offense at having a plum, mushroom or type of herring named after you. Anyway, these tiny plums fit perfectly, one into each dumplings, but I haven't seen them in England, so you may just need to us half a normal plum. You can also make delicious "knedle" with peaches, if you prefer, or even strawberries, but in my family, it's always been plum

350g potatoes, mashed without butter
125g flour
1 small egg
pinch of salt
250g plums (peaches/strawberries)
100g breadcrumbs
50g butter
Brown sugar to serve

If you doubled the ingredients, you would still only need a large egg. Really for this amount, you need half an egg, but since that doesn't exist (unless you have a quail's egg handy), we used a whole one. This made the mixture a bit wet, but this doesn't matter, you just need lots of flour when forming it. You combine the mashed potatoes with the flour, salt and egg and blend with your hands, until you create a doughy consistency. Then, roll it into a baguette shape, like you can see on the second photo up there. Cover the plumbs with plenty of brown sugar. Cut the baguette shape into even slices, and make a little dent in each one - the sugary plum goes in here. Seal it thoroughly. Bring some water to the boil and place all the dumplings in it. Whilst they're cooking, melt some butter in a frying and add the breadcrumbs - cook until nice and brown. When the dumplings swim out to the top, they're kind of ready, but they'll taste better if you give them a few more minutes - maybe 5-6. Drain them, then transfer to the frying pan with breadcrumbs. Make sure that they are all properly coated and add brown sugar to taste. A great dish for when you feel that first nip of Autumn in the air, the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been a lovely, cold glass of Gewurztraminer

Monday 5 September 2011

Cheese and herrings in Holland

Driving from Poland to Holland isn't as bad as I remember it being back in the day. We now have a whole 300km of motorway, you know, somewhere in the middle of the route from Warsaw to the border. Which leaves only 3 or 4 hours of narrow roads where trucks drive at a 100 miles an hour and tractors at about 10 miles an hour. In practise, this means that you need to overtake by going into the oncoming traffic. With our stearing wheel on the left, UK-style, the driver needs to poke the car out while the passagers shout either "yes, overtake", or "no, there is a truck heading straight at me at a 100 miles per hour" or, even better, someone could be overtaking that truck from the other side. Germany, with it's incredible motorway system, is a breeze by comparison. It took us 11 hours to reach my aunt's house on the German-Dutch border - a beautifully converted 19th Century farmhouse. Holland reminds me of childhood holidays, because we used to come here every year while I was growing up. Although then, my aunt lived near Leiden. That area has amazing beaches. The place where she lives now, near Wintersweik, is more rural and wild. Although Dutch-wild is still clean and neat, of course. Everywhere in Holland, you can buy great cheese. "Old Amsterdam" has always been my favourite, though this time I had the chance to try a hard Goat's cheese, which has taken the top spot. It looks like a white "Old Amsterdam", and not very interesting, but in fact, it's full of flavour. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of it, but I think it was something pretty obvious. Like "Old Goat's Cheese" or something. It's down there at the bottom, if you want to see what it looks like, sitting next to "Old Amsterdam"
 And here's a herring, Dutch style
You grab it by the tail and eat it like this
It's obligatory, even the Dutch queen does it. I don't know if she gets the whole thing in at once, but I wasn't about to risk tickling my tonsils with a herring