Thursday 28 November 2013

Polish wild mushroom soup with crunchy macaroni

I love the smell of dried, wild mushrooms so much that when I open the box, I can barely tear them away from my nose. Recently, my mum asked my auntie whether she'd taken any of her wild mushrooms that were standing in the kitchen, to which my aunt's response was "No, I was just smelling them", so I guess this fascination is common. The smell is pungent, musky and sweet all at the same time, almost sexual in a dark, unexplained way
So I used these mushrooms to make a very simple, clear, wild mushroom soup. As it contains macaroni, it is quite substantial so you can have it for dinner, however, I also used some of the vegetables from the stock to make a Russian salad too, for starters
First, wash and rehydrate the mushrooms, rinse and cover in boiling water twice. Make the second bowl quite large, and keep them in there for a good few hours, then keep this brown, flavoursome water. To make the vegetable stock, cook a large peeled carrot, a parsnip, an onion, a potato (if you are making the salad, otherwise, forget it) and some celery in a massive pan of salted water. Remove the carrot, parsnip and potato after 30min if you are making the salad. Continue cooking the other stuff for another half an hour. Combine the two stocks: the mushroom and the vegetable, season well with salt and pepper, and bring it back to the boil. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan. Cook for another 20min, and meanwhile make the macaroni. Once it is ready, drain and then fry it in some butter until crunchy. Serve the two together

Monday 25 November 2013

"Superfood" healthy french toast

There are few foods in this world that are quite as sexy as French toast drizzled in honey. Yet the dangerous voluptuousness of the classic recipe has made it a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. So imagine my glee at discovering that French toast can be made healthy without loosing its sex appeal. The replacements were simple: wholemeal bread instead of white, coconut oil instead of butter. Then to up the flavour stakes: plenty of cinnamon and vanilla, and a pleasant maltiness added by my superfood of the moment, maca powder
Beat the eggs with a fork on a large plate; add the cinnamon, maca powder and vanilla essence and keep beating until smooth. Halve the bread, and dip each bit in the eggy mixture, covering both sides well, before frying in hot coconut oil. When golden and crispy on both sides, remove from heat. Drizzle in honey and sprinkle with a tad more cinnamon before serving. For 1 slice of bread you will need 1 egg, 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, good quality vanilla essence and maca powder

Thursday 21 November 2013

Polish sauerkraut and wild mushroom stew with pearl barley

Perhaps it's my grandma's recent departing or perhaps it's that I'm working on a book on this very subject, but Polish food is playing the leading role in my life right now. This is a reworking of a classic vegetarian sauerkraut stew, which we would traditionally eat on Christmas Eve (as part of the 13 non-meat dishes). Today, I experimented with adding pearl barley and the result was stunning! This is an innovation I will be propagating henceforth. I think it may catch on, because it makes this dish into something quite special, more balanced, giving it a risotto-like consistency and the strong flavours something to sink into
Those up there are the mushrooms picked this Autumn by my uncle Kazik, which were soaked in cold water, washed under running water and then  re-hydrated in hot, boiled water overnight. Make sure you reserve the water, as it's one of our essential components. Brown the onion on a medium heat in the oil, then add the sauerkraut, the mushroom water and the prunes. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for approximately an hour. After about 20min add the wild mushrooms. Meanwhile, fry the other mushrooms on a separate pan in the butter. After about 5 min, add the marjoram. Once they are nicely browned, toss them into the main pan and continue cooking along with the rest of the stew. In another pan, cook the pearl barley in some vegetable stock. We use the beer to add moisture while your stew is cooking. Near the end of the cooking time, add the beans and pearl barley, season to taste with soya sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. That down there makes enough for 5-6 portions, yet all the measurements are approximations so feel feel to add and subtract to your own taste. Remember to make more than you need, as it tastes even better the next day


1 jar sauerkraut
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tin butter beans, drained
250g pearl barley
Handful dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped
Handful closed cup mushrooms, chopped
Prunes, pitted and chopped
Beer – half a pint
2 tablespoons mild oil
1 teaspoon marjoram, or more
2 teaspoons ground flaxseed (optional)
100g butter
Soya sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

Monday 11 November 2013

Babcia Halinka's pierogi - sauerkraut and mushroom Polish dumplings

It's a strange kind of sadness when your last grandparent dies. Of course, at 33, my childhood is long behind me, yet while any grandparent still lives, there is still a connection, someone who still sees you in that way. My Babcia Halinka was born in Vilnius, Lithuania and died in Warsaw, Poland, just before her 90th birthday. The culture in Poland is such that as a child, your grandmothers help to bring you up. So Babcia Halinka took me for long walks around Warsaw every weekend, she took me to the theatre and to Chopin concerts in Lazienki Park in the Summer. Her cupboards were filled to the brim with old clothes and materials, which I used to dress up in to perform. There were always plenty of cushions on her Bohemian furniture and I used these to make a nest for myself, something I will always associate with that time in my life, and I still find myself trying to recreate now. I'd run round and round her flat, in which every room was connected to the next. Or we'd cook in her tiny little dark kitchen (it was in the middle of the all these inter-connected rooms). This is how she would make "pierogi" and her favourite filling of sauerkraut and mushrooms, a recipe she passed on to her daughter-in-law (my mum) and my mum gave to me just yesterday, when I announced the sudden urge to make dumplings. I felt close to my gran making these today, in the same way she used to do, all those times, in that dark, little kitchen outside of time

400g plain flour
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4-5 tablespoons boiled, tepid water
Pinch of salt

4-5 mushrooms, chopped
large handful sauerkraut
small onion, chopped
olive oil and butter
salt and pepper

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the yolks, butter and salt. Blend with your fingertips, then stick together to make dough, adding the water, bit by bit. Kneed the dough for about 7-8min, before covering in a damp towel and leaving to rest for 20min. Make the filling by frying the onion in a large knob of butter until golden. Add the mushrooms and fry until the water has evaporated. Cook the sauerkraut by simmering in a pan of water for about 15min. Blend everything. Add some olive oil if you are finding it difficult to blend. Fry the mushy ingredients all together in some more butter, or olive oil if you don't want to overdo it on the butter front. Allow to cool. Now roll out the pierogi dough on a floured surface, as thin as you can. Use a large cup to cut circles in the dough of about 9-10cm in diameter. Any less than 9cm and it gets a little hard to get a decent amount of filling in. Use a teaspoon to put in a dollop of filling into the middle of each circle. Flatten the edges before you attempt to stick them together. Press hard, be bold. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and place about 6 pierogi in at a time. Cover. Once they float to the top (you'll have to check every minute or so), give them another 5min, then remove. You can eat them like this, but I like to fry them in a mixture of butter and olive oil first, it makes them even tastier in my opinion

Thursday 7 November 2013

Okra with black beans

I'm going through a bit of a veggie phase right now, coming up with random combos of vegetables with various sauces and spices. This okra and black bean West Indian style curry was a particularly tasty invention
I stir-fried some chopped fresh ginger, chilli and garlic in vegetable oil (olive oil is too overpowering here), then added a mixture of Caribbean mild curry spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger, chilli, fenugreek, salt and pepper) and grated some fresh nutmeg. Then the okra. After stir-frying on a high heat for about 7 minutes, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and the drained black beans and season with garlic salt, pepper and chilli sauce. I used this one down here - it's a mild chilli sauce I bought in California. It tastes a bit like Worcestershire sauce. Allow to simmer for about 10min and serve with rice

Tin of black beans
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Red chilli
Fresh ginger
Garlic clove
Caribbean curry spices
Fresh nutmeg
Vegetable oil
Chilli sauce
Garlic salt and pepper