Saturday 26 January 2013

Warming lentil soup with crispy-fried potatoes

As much as I love to make plans, sometimes I love to cancel plans even more. This is precisely what I did today, resulting in one incredibly pleasant Saturday. If you are lucky enough to be able to cancel everything and have a duvet day, then I recommend it. This is how I spent mine: drank good coffee while writing in bed; popped out to buy a sausage sandwich from Mess Cafe; drank more coffee while writing some more; cuddled up to Coco the cat; went for an laughably short run, then back into Mess Cafe to buy another sausage sandwich - this time for a homeless person with sad eyes; had a bath; got back into bed and messed around on facebook; drank more good coffee and powered by that coffee I wrote some more; tickled Coco for a bit; surfed the internet; made that hearty lentil soup you see down there and ate it greedily congratulating myself with every spoonful, popped out to get some honey and discovered Malt Extract at Holland and Barrett (if you could have an orgasm from food, then this is the food that would give it to you - enough said); made flapjacks with the said Malt Extract; did a spot of Kundalini yoga and meditation... and here I am now, feeling rather pleased with myself and shamelessly cancelling more plans
Ingredients (4 servings)

250 grams red lentils
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
1 carrot, grated
1 red chilli, chopped
1 clove of garlic, choped
1l vegetable stock
Tin of chopped tomates
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Plenty of water
Potatoes, chopped but not peeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 duvet day, optional
Fry the onion and chilli for a couple of minutes in some olive oil. Add the carrot, garlic and spices, and fry some more. Add the lentils (I didn't need to soak mine, but soak yours first if this is what it says on the packet) and the stock. Turn the heat down, cover and leave to simmer for 20min. About now, you may want to start frying your chopped potatoes. Do this on a reasonably high heat so that they get all nice'n'crispy. Stir the chopped tomatoes into your soup, and add the soya sauce, vinegar and honey. Allow to simmer for another 20min, then add plenty of water (so that the soup is of a consistency that you enjoy most), season with salt and pepper, and allow to simmer for another 10mins before serving with your crispy potatoes inside.The thing about this soup, is that it's even better eaten the next day, just add more water, simmer for 10 more minutes and add some fresh crispy-fried potatoes

Monday 21 January 2013

Spicy sweet potato "placki"

Sometimes it takes a cold, dark month and a party full of people you've never met before to make you realize what a good place you're at in your life
My peace of mind hasn't come easily, and I'm trying not to grasp onto it, because I want to be the one who "kisses the joy as it flies", yet for some unexplainable reason I feel very excited about the future
"Placki" are a rustic, Polish dish usually made out of normal potatoes, but on my randomly happy wave I decided to jazz them up a bit, by making them out of sweet potatoes and adding chilli and paprika into the mix

2 large sweet potatoes, grated to mush
1/2 a red onion, also grated to mush
1 red chilli, chopped as finely as you can get it
1 teaspoon paprika
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Light olive oil for frying
Greek yoghurt to serve

Combine all the ingredients apart from the oil and yoghurt. Blend well. Heat plenty of olive oil in a large frying pan. Once it's really hot spoon on a tablespoon of the mixture and flatten down into a more-or-less round shape (or it could be a heart if you're feeling clever). Turn the heat down, cover and fry for about 7min. Turn over and fry the other side for about a little less time - maybe 5min or so. If you are having problems with the "placki" sticking together, simply add more flour. Remove from heat: eat with Greek yoghurt, more paprika and more seasoning if so inclined

Monday 14 January 2013

Sunny lentil cakes with chilli and coconut

Sometime in the 1940s Lesley Blanch wrote a rather unusual cookbook for her time - Around the World in 80 Dishes. In it, she wrote this:
"...There is a popular misconception that southern food is rich and that southern passions run high. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must go to the north - the dark, ingrown, seething north of Ibsen household - if you want to find overwhelming passions and those rich nightmare-producing meals, which I feel may have been responsible for some of Dostoievsky's great flights. This north of the Karamazov's brothers, of Anna Karenina's ill-fated love, of Gosta Beling's Atonement, is the land of blinis and bigos, kouloubiak, and pickled herrings, sour cream, indigestion and introspection. The Mediterranean on the contrary, is all lightness - light food, light loves, air, sea, blueness and dalliance"
 And on this note, I decided to move away from the darkness and into the light this weekend with some lentil cakes. I don't absolutely agree with every word that Lesley wrote up there, yet I do admit that there is some truth in it. At this time of the year especially, Slavic food can be a bit dark and brooding. And I have been focusing on it a lot of late. I like to eat seasonally and I don't want to start pretending I'm in Greece in the the middle of July right now, because that would be weird. But lentil cakes... they are exotic and sunny - yes, easy to make - yes, versatile enough to eat for lunch and as a beer snack - yes (I put a pinch of paprika and a squeeze of lemon in my beer last night, Mexican-style), and they don't feel morally wrong to me, because the lentils are dried anyway. Then I had to decide what to eat with the lentil cakes for lunch
And I couldn't lie to myself any longer. What I really wanted to eat was this tomato salsa-esque salad with coriander, chilli and lime. Unseasonal unfortunately, but somehow much needed. As they say: "Everything in moderation. Including moderation". My quest for seasonality will continue this Winter, but my body needed some tomatoes today. And the lentil cakes were gorgeous - crispy on the outside and soft and flavoursome on the inside in a way that I didn't even anticipate. What I know is this: A combination of Kundalini, cats and spicy lentil cakes can bring light into your life if you choose to let it in


Red lentils, soaked overnight
1 red chilli
4 tablespoons dessicated coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 tablespoons flour
1 egg
Handful coriander, finely chopped
Oil for frying

Soak the lentils overnight, then drain and combine with all the other ingredients. Make little balls out of them, and keep adding flour until they stick together. Place them in plenty of hot oil and pat down, then cover and turn the heat down a bit. Fry for about 10-15 minutes on each side

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Herrings under a fur coat aka salad "pod shuboy"

I remember eating this salad for the first time in St Petersburg. It was in the same building that Pushkin had his last glass of water - or it could have been a lemonade, no one is sure - before he went off to his fateful duel. It's remarkable to think that, until relatively recently, that was a perfectly acceptable way to handle certain disputes. Especially those of the heart, it would seem. It' very... Russian, isn't it? So romantic, so elegantly blasé, even in the face of death. So incredibly glamorous.
And St. Petersburg is incredibly glamorous. And eating this salad, in an elegant cafe on Nevsky Prospect, I felt incredibly glamorous too. I hope that if you make it, it will do the same for you
The salad itself is supposed to look like a cake, colourful and layered. The beetroot, apple, potato, carrot, egg and herring are a fantastic combination, complementing one another at every opportunity. Once you've made this salad a few times, you will probably have your own way with it - some people grate, others chop, the layers vary. I do a layer of herrings at the bottom, then onion, then potato, then the sauce, the beetroot, carrot, apple, eggs, another layer of sauce and dill on top


Herrings in oil - the simplest you can get
Red onion, finely sliced, or if you bought herrings with onion then use that
Potatoes, cooked and grated or sliced
Beetroot, cooked and grated
Carrots, grated
Granny Smith apple, grated
Eggs (4-5), hard boiled and chopped


1/2 Mayo
1/2 Sour cream
White pepper

Thursday 3 January 2013

Spicy mutton with pearl barley

It's cold outside, I'm broke, I miss my ex and I'm worried that my cat wants to leave me for the insane woman down the road. Yet I also know that this sad time is the perfect moment to reflect on the past year and to focus on everything I want (and don't want) in the coming one. The good news is that I have no regrets, so nothing is going to hold me back. I know that I did my best in my career, my relationship (even though it didn't work out) and my dreamwork, as I like to call all the stuff I'm working on in my own time. I'm still a little tired, a little jaded, but soon, soon...
First I need soul food, in every sense. I'm going to fill myself up on nourishing stuff like this spicy mutton with pearl barley, meditate every day to attain acceptance and sleep as much as I want to. Right now this is anything from 9.5 to 11 hours a night. The mutton needs lots of time too, so I would suggest cooking it over the weekend. First, season the meat with salt and pepper and set aside for half an hour. Dry-fry the meat for about 5 minutes, and remove from the pan. In the same pan, fry the onion, garlic and the scotch bonnet in some oil until translucent and golden - probably about 3-4 minutes - stir in the Jamaican curry spices and return the meat to the pan. Stir all the spices over the meat, then add the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down, cover the pan and allow to stew for 3 hours. Check it now and again to make sure it has moisture, and add water if it's looking dry. Add the coconut milk and the tomatoes. Cook for 45min and add the pearl barley. Cook until the pearl barley is soft - another 45min or so

Ingredients (serves 4)

400g mutton
2 onions, chopped finely
4 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 scotch bonnet pepper
1 tin of coconut milk
3 tomatoes
600g pearl barley
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon Jamaican curry spices
2 litres vegetable stock
Salt and pepper