The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?Read More
It physically pains me to put food in the bin. So much so that I often have to recruit a willing helper (read: boyfriend) to do so, on the rare occasion that I cannot rescue whatever is languishing in my fridge or cupboards. I try and engineer my kitchen design around being able to see, clearly, what I have to use up, before it’s too late, but there are occasions when even this doesn’t quite work out. One of the most depressing moments of my life took place several months ago, when I had to throw two free-range chickens in the bin. Whole, oven-ready, uncooked chickens, for whom I had had big plans involving Thai spices and Vietnamese broth. They had been kept at a market stall in a fridge that was too overcrowded, resulting in poor cold air circulation, and had started to turn rancid, emitting a strange aroma of French cheese that warned my primitive survival instinct not to let them anywhere near my kitchen or stomach. Throwing away food is always sad, but it’s even sadder when an animal has died in vain. That said, I get upset even just having to pour the remnants of a bottle of milk down the drain, or throwing a mouldy lemon onto the compost heap – it just seems irresponsible and an insult to beautiful ingredients and the hard work of farmers and producers.Read More
There are lots of food-related topics that I just love to get on my high horse about. Even as I write this, I feel a thrill of mingled anticipation and indignation at the prospect of listing some of them. Here goes. Packs of pre-sliced onions and carrots. That hotdog stuffed-crust pizza. People who cook rice by boiling it like pasta. People who refuse to eat fish with heads on, or shudder at the thought of cooking 'cute' little rabbits yet happily tuck into battery chicken or pork. Cereal bars that pretend to be healthy but in fact are actually cardboard dipped in sugar. Turkey ham. Kale smoothies. Use of the word 'detox'. The utter ludicrousness of a pre-packaged soft-boiled egg.Read More
"I think I'm going to smoke something this weekend!" I announced excitedly to my friends last week. There were raised brows and quizzical looks. As probably the most straight-laced person in the entire universe, someone who has never in her life been properly drunk, stayed up all night, got in trouble at school, inhaled a cigarette or toyed with the boundaries of the law, someone who would much rather have a quiet evening in with friends and go to bed at 10pm than attend a party or - heaven forbid - a club, someone who is, let's face it, boringly calm and neurotic and ripe for a career as a cat lady, their surprise at my suggestion of forthcoming tobacco/illegal substance consumption is perhaps unsurprising.Read More
Let's be realistic. No matter how long it sits on my 'to-do' list, I am never going to get round to delivering that lengthy, nuanced, insightful, evocatively-written, anecdote-peppered, florid prose masterpiece that is 'Elly's travels around Thailand' on the blog. I think I exhausted myself for life in that area when I wrote an almost book-length post on Vietnam and Cambodia a couple of years ago, and have never had the inclination to repeat the effort. I keep a hand-written travel journal and simply cannot find it in me to take the time to transcribe it for the benefits of the internet. But, since we're all obsessed with lists and bite-size chunks of information these days, I thought I would deliver a Buzzfeed-style recap of my trip that cuts out the boring parts and gets straight to the valuable, the memorable, the gastronomic...and the cat-related. Because I've heard the internet loves cats too.
P.S. Scroll down to the bottom for accommodation/restaurant recommendations.Read More
Apologies for the radio silence; I’ve been in Thailand. Isn’t that a great sentence to be able to write? Photos and Thai-inspired recipes to follow shortly, but for now I am going to share a rare savoury breakfast treat. This brunch is not for the faint-hearted: it’s big, rich, hearty and very substantial. If that puts you off, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. If not, let me get you even more excited. Imagine plump, juicy kernels of sweetcorn whisked into a pancake batter spiked with chopped jalapeño, spring onions and a generous spoonful of blushing paprika. These are fried until crispy on the outside and tender in the middle, and served with bacon, grilled cherry tomatoes and an avocado and mango salsa.Read More
We all, I think, have times where we wish our mouths had an ‘undo’ button. Where we would happily go back in time and refrain from eating that last piece of bread, slice of cake, cutlet of meat, forkful of noodles, entire two courses…times where we’re so disgracefully full that we empathise with force-fed foie gras geese as we waddle, moaning plaintively, home to fester fatly in bed until the following morning when we declare we are never eating that much again. A bit like a food hangover, really.Read More
Mango and coconut is such an evocative combination. For me personally, it conjures up two delicious holiday memories. The first: setting foot outside a hotel in Saigon for my very first experience of Vietnam, walking fifty yards down a street pervaded by the kind of chaos you only get in south east Asian capitals to find a little stall down a side alley serving up the most magnificent smoothies. Forget smoothie, actually – this was a meal in a cup: ambrosial marigold mango pureed with glorious ice, thick coconut cream and scattered with the glistening pulp of a passion fruit. With my hair and clothes already sticking to my damp, humid skin, this was like nectar.Read More
I’ve had a box of cereal bars in my cupboard for over six months. It was a box of six when I bought it; six months on, five remain. The other day I looked at the sell-by date and had to throw them out, as they’d expired two months ago. Why had I purchased a box of cereal bars and only eaten one? The answer lies not, as you may think, in simple forgetfulness, or a discovered dislike for the variety I had purchased.Read More
Making a proper, involved, Indian curry sometimes makes me feel a little bit like a witch. Into a bubbling cauldron (okay, a Le Creuset casserole), I chop, sprinkle and throw a vast array of ingredients, whose individual fragrances, flavours and perfumes mingle magically and alchemically into a heady and potent end result. Although it can be quite tedious and time-consuming to rifle my spice cupboards (yes, I have three - no that shouldn't surprise you if you know me or read this blog regularly) for all the different ingredients required, to extract them from their various jars/sellotaped-down packets/tupperware boxes and to toast, grind and dice them as necessary, I love the way they all contribute their own unique qualities to the final dish.
While I often use maybe two or three herbs and spices at most in a single recipe, there are times that call for more than that. To spoon them from their jars is a pleasure; I can appreciate the vivid marigold of turmeric, the shocking vibrance of scarlet paprika, the delicate shape of a floral star anise or furled cinnamon stick, the wrinkled citrus perfume of a jade cardamom pod, the deep warmth of cumin, the pungent earthy aroma of ground coriander...I could go on. I love the way the aromas emanating from the pan shift with every addition, becoming slightly more earthy, or slightly sweeter, or a little bit more astringent (particularly when you throw in a bit of feisty cayenne pepper).
The main reason for making this curry was a little packet of mango powder, a recent acquisition from the excellent JustIngredients. I've never cooked with it before but I am a total fiend for mangoes, so it made sense to add another manifestation of this exquisite fruit to my culinary repertoire. Mango powder is made from green, unripe mangoes, so it possesses a wonderful tartness, and is often used for this reason in curries and stews, perhaps where you might otherwise use tamarind or lime juice. I'm keen to try it out soon in a marinade for chicken, but first had the idea for this curry.
Although I do love a good meat-based curry, particularly involving slow-cooked red meat like lamb or beef that braises down into melting, spicy tenderness, I try not to eat too much meat. Chickpeas are a lovely substitute in curries, because they possess a good substantial texture and are also an excellent vehicle for carrying the fragrant sauce. I love the texture of an earthy chickpea against a mound of fragrant rice - it's that slightly sinful yet delicious marriage of carbs with carbs.
This curry uses a lot of spices. They mingle together during the cooking time (another bonus - much quicker than a meat-based curry) to result in a gorgeous fragrant sauce, sweet with cinnamon, hot with cayenne pepper, earthy with cumin, coriander and turmeric, zingy with cardamom, and slightly sour from the mango powder. The base of the sauce is chopped tomatoes and a little brown sugar, which turns dark and rich and sweet/sour, laced with tender strips of softened onion. I love the tang that the mango powder brings to the whole dish - it makes it incredibly moreish.
Into this aromatic sauce go tinned chickpeas (I never cook them from scratch because the tinned ones are perfectly good - just make sure you get a good Asian/Middle-Eastern brand rather than the supermarket own brand) and a load of spinach, which wilts down amongst the chickpeas and thickens the sauce. It also contributes the 'something green' that must be a component of every meal I cook - it's become a bit of a compulsion.
To continue the mango theme, I decided to add some cubed fresh mango to the curry at the end of cooking. This was, if I say so myself, a great idea. Because the sauce is so earthy and has that kick of sourness from the mango powder, and the chickpeas are quite starchy and neutral-tasting, the fruity mango contributes a delicious fresh, sweet flavour and a lovely texture that works so well with all the other elements. Add to that a sprinkle of fresh coriander, and you have a perfect marriage.
Although this has a long list of spices involved, it's an incredibly easy curry to make and takes very little actual cooking time. I know a lot of people are put off by the idea of vegetarian curries, as they never quite manage to live up to the richness of meat-based varieties, but this I think is one of the best I've ever made or had. It's comforting and warming yet healthy and fruity at the same time, and a real pleasure both to look at and to eat.
The sauce is also a good base for adapting - I think some cubed aubergines cooked along with the chickpeas would be excellent, softening into slippery deliciousness. You could add strips of chicken if you really can't live without the meat. Pomegranate seeds scattered over the top as well as or instead of the fresh mango would be excellent (I wanted to try this, but didn't have any pomegranates), or maybe some dried apricots added to the sauce along with the chickpeas. Try this mango version first, though, because it's great.
I'd also like to clarify that I don't stand by my hob chanting 'hubble bubble' while making these sorts of things...but once you've made this, you might understand my strange notions of cooking with spices as being magical.
Chickpea, spinach and mango curry (serves 4):
- 1 tbsp olive/rapeseed oil
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp
- ground cumin
- 4 cardamom pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp mango powder
- 3 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 x 400g cans chickpeas
- 500ml water
- Two large handfuls fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 4 large handfuls spinach
- 2 ripe mangoes, cut into 2cm cubes
Heat the oil in a large casserole dish and saute the onion until softened and golden. Add the cumin, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, salt, mango powder, coriander, garam masala, cayenne, turmeric and sugar. Partially cover the pan with a lid and cook for 5-10 minutes on a low heat until the tomatoes have softened and thickened.
Add the chickpeas, water, and half the coriander and cook, covered, for 20-25 minutes until the sauce has thickened. If it's too runny, cook uncovered for a few minutes more. Add the spinach and cook for a minute or so until it wilts into the sauce. Stir in the mango, and serve immediately, with steamed rice, sprinkled with the remaining coriander.
For those of us who can't afford those tempting 'winter sun' breaks at this time of year (a notion I generally hate and associate with terrifying mental images of lobster-red English bodies splayed out on the Costa del Vomit), there is a much easier way to capture a little of that summer cheer on cold, rainy days: cook your way to it. In the market the other day, I was transfixed by the sheer brightness and colour of the fruit and vegetable displays: vibrant glossy red and yellow peppers; jewel-like cranberries; luminous citrus globes; vivid, feathery fennel; bulbous gleaming aubergines; hot pink shards of rhubarb; marigold, bulgingly ripe persimmons; dusky pink lychees...it's probably the most colourful and inviting I've seen the market all year, and it seemed very fitting that all this wonderful fruit and veg (admittedly, most of it imported), bursting with colour and flavour, appears at the time of year when we most desperately need it.
Inspired by a lovely box of goodies I received recently from Belazu, producers of Mediterranean and North African ingredients (I especially love their preserved lemons), I've come up with a recipe that will bring a little Moroccan sunshine into your life. It uses mangoes, which is obviously not very Moroccan, but these sweet cubes of golden fruit are exactly what both your eyes and your tastebuds need during the winter. They're paired with sardine fillets, used a lot in Moroccan cooking, although these ones have been smoked, rather like haddock. They sound unusual, but I found them in my local Tesco, and would definitely recommend them if you can find them. While normal sardines will work perfectly well for this recipe too, the smokiness definitely adds a lovely savoury edge.
I've used barley couscous from Belazu, which is exactly like ordinary couscous except with a lovely nutty flavour and slightly firmer texture. I've also used their rose harissa paste, which is a blend of over 40 herbs and spices with a beautiful deep red colour and intense spicy flavour. I went through a phase in my second year of university of putting harissa on practically everything, and I have a feeling I might be tempted that way again. It adds a great earthy kick to whatever you put it on - it's great rubbed over fish or meat before grilling, but it's also good stirred into couscous, as I've done here.
To the harissa couscous I've added chopped spinach and cubes of juicy ripe mango. The sweetness of the mango counteracts the spiciness of the harissa paste, and also works very well with the rich oily flesh of the sardines. I've rubbed the sardine fillets with ras-el-hanout, a Moroccan spice mix whose Arabic name means 'head of the shop', indicating the tradition whereby the mixture featured the best spices the seller had to offer. There's no set recipe for this, and different brands all have different mixtures, but generally they include cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, chilli, coriander, cumin, pepper, turmeric, and rose petals. You can buy ras-el-hanout in most delis and supermarkets now.
The spices really enhance the deep flavour of the smoky sardine flesh, which is perfect with the sweet, juicy mango cubes and the spicy kick from the harissa couscous. All the dish needs is a scattering of toasted flaked almonds, for crunch and a deep toasty flavour, and a dollop of yoghurt, to cool everything down. It's nutritious, filling and satisfying, and the perfect recipe to transport you to sunnier climes.
Smoked sardines with harissa mango couscous (serves 2):
- 180g barley couscous
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tsp rose harissa (or more if you like it hot!)
- 2 large handfuls baby spinach
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 medium mango, peeled, stoned and cut into 1cm cubes
- 3 tsp ras-el-hanout spice mix
- 6 smoked/unsmoked sardine fillets (this would also work with mackerel)
- Olive oil
- 2 tbsp flaked almonds or pine nuts, toasted in a hot pan or under the grill
- Greek yoghurt, to serve
Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover it by around 1cm. Put a plate over the top of the bowl and set aside.
Meanwhile, wilt the spinach either in a large frying pan or by microwaving it in a bowl for a minute on high heat. Chop it finely. When the couscous has absorbed all the water, after around 5-10 minutes, stir in the rose harissa and some seasoning. Add the spinach, herbs and mango, and set aside.
Rub the ras-el-hanout over both sides of the sardine fillets. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and get it quite hot. Add the sardines, skin side down first, and cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Divide the mango couscous between two plates, then put the cooked sardines on top. Scatter over the flaked almonds and serve with a dollop of yoghurt on each plate.
OK, so I'm kind of cheating with this one. In that I posted this recipe already, approximately a year ago. But a) I felt it was only fair that it had another moment in the limelight, as it's so damn good, and b) my photography has improved slightly since then, so I wanted to do the cheesecake its full justice by taking half-decent photos of it. Actually, they're kind of odd photos, because I took them al fresco, so the sunlight is doing weird things with shadows and exposure. However, I quite like them because they remind me that today was beautiful and sunny in the afternoon, so I could actually take a cake outside. Had I tried to shoot these photos approximately four hours earlier, the cheesecake would have been swept away by what was pretty much a monsoon, engulfing Cambridge for an hour this morning, soaking me to the skin and forcing me to take refuge in Marks & Spencer. What a hardship.
It's Alphonso mango season at the moment, which basically means my life is perfect and joyful. I've been kidding myself over the past year that my favourite fruit is the pear. Which then changes to the apple every time I bite into a crisp-skinned Pink Lady or a citrussy Cox. Which then changes to the pineapple when I have a really good piece of juicy, sweet, perfectly ripe pineapple, oozing luscious golden juice. Which then changes to the banana, when I eat a really good, tangy underripe banana to give me an energy boost for the gym. Which then changes to the apricot, when I bake them with orange flower water and honey and spoon them in seductive rosy heaps over my morning porridge. Which then changes to the raspberry, now that British ones are in season and offering up their tart juiciness. What can I say? I'm fickle when it comes to fruit.
But suddenly, come June, I realise now that all of this is a lie. Because my absolute favourite fruit, dear readers, is the Alphonso mango. Trust me to pick something exotic, elusive and expensive that is only available for a very tiny window of the year.
I don't want to go into too much detail about these luscious mangoes, because I did so in my last post for this cheesecake. Suffice to say that if you could eat gold , this is probably what it would taste like.
The flesh is buttery, honey-sweet, oozing syrupy orange juice (your fingernails will look like a smoker's for days after eating one of these bad boys). The perfume is heady, whispering of tropical climes, of heaving spice markets, of radiant silks. The feel in your hand is firm, plump, warm, almost alive. Mottled, sun-kissed flesh, hinting coyly at the promise of treasure within.
If you don't believe me, try and track down a box of these specimens before the season ends - they're generally found in Asian markets and groceries. I actually got mine from the Chinese grocery store near where I work; the middle Eastern stores were only selling the Pakistani honey mangoes, which are also fabulous but not quite as wonderful; they're slightly more bland, with creamier, less vibrant flesh. They're still a million times better than any other mangoes from the supermarket, though.
So, get your Alphonso mango. Beg, borrow or steal if you have to. If you think £5-7 for a box is too much, you're an idiot. It's so worth it.
Sniff one, cut it open, and suck the flesh straight from the stone.
Then send me a thank-you via email, for enriching your life.
I've spent a small fortune on these golden globes of gorgeousness so far this month, but to me they're worth every penny. To be fair, they're actually the same price as supermarket mangoes - around £1-1.50 each, but because you don't normally buy supermarket mangoes in batches of five or six it seems more expensive. THIS IS IRRELEVANT. Would you pay seven small pounds to enter HEAVEN? Of course you would. So do it.
You don't want to do much with an Alphonso mango. It's kind of like the early stages of love, the honeymoon period of a relationship. You don't care what you do; you'd be happy just to sit on the sofa all day together, or lie in the park, or generally carry out very little, because it's all about the company of your loved one.
It's the same with an Alphonso mango. You're just so happy it's there, you don't need to do anything to enjoy it any more.
However, should you want to elevate its deliciousness to extreme and sublime heights, try making this unbaked cheesecake. Baking an Alphonso mango is not a good idea; it can only dull that vibrant flesh and flavour. Instead, fold cubes of this startlingly orange treasure into a smooth cream cheese and coconut batter. Enjoy the contrast between the marigold fruit and the snow-white cheese. Set it with gelatine, and fold it luxuriantly over a buttery biscuit base enriched with the heady, citrussy perfume of crushed cardamom pods. Leave to set in the fridge, sprinkle with coconut, and serve.
I repeat, from my last post about this, what one of my friends remarked upon eating it: "This tastes like India".
Actually, given some unsavoury stories about Indian travel that I've heard from gap-yearing friends of mine (the "I saw my first dead body" story particularly springs to mind), perhaps I wouldn't want this cheesecake to taste like the real India. But in that it tastes like all the flavours you could associate, wistfully and longingly, with India and tropical climes - fresh coconut, super-sweet mango, fragrant cardamom - it's a perfect description.
Incidentally, it's even vaguely healthy - apart from the biscuit base (though I did use reduced-fat biscuits and a fraction of the butter traditionally called for in cheesecake recipes). The filling uses Quark, a fat-free cream cheese, and light normal cream cheese. Yes, there's sugar, but in terms of fat it's much better for you than traditional offerings. Plus with all that mango goodness in there, I'm sure it must be one of your five-a-day.
You wouldn't guess it's healthy, though, from the taste. The filling is beautifully creamy, holding its shape yet melting in the mouth. It has a slightly sweet coconut tang which complements the fruity mango - I used coconut essence, which I managed to track down online. It's hard to get hold of, though, so use vanilla if you can't get any, or don't add any essence and instead dissolve the gelatine in the microwaved hot juice of one lime, rather than water. This variation is also delicious; I'm torn between which I prefer.
Either way, this is a perfect summer dessert. It can, of course, be made with normal mangoes from the supermarket, and will still be fabulous - just slightly less heavenly.
This time I made the cake in a 20cm tin rather than an 18cm tin, mainly because that way you get a thinner layer of cheesecake, which means MORE BISCUIT BASE per mouthful. Which is basically the whole point of cheesecake. I also used two mangoes in the cake instead of one, skipping the mango decoration on the top and just finishing with a light sprinkling of coconut.
Mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake (serves 8):
- 10 digestive biscuits (normal or reduced-fat, if you want to make it slightly healthier)
- 50g butter, melted
- 10 cardamom pods, seeds crushed to a powder
- 2 ripe Alphonso mangoes
- 250g Quark
- 150g light cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 tsp coconut essence (you can order this on eBay; if you can't find it, leave it out or use vanilla)
- 1 sachet gelatine
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor and mix with the melted butter and cardamom. Scatter over the base of a greased, lined springform cake tin (18cm or 20cm) and press down with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes until golden and aromatic. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, mix the Quark, cream cheese, icing sugar and coconut essence together with an electric mixer. Peel the mangoes and dice into small cubes.
Place the boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Leave for a couple of minutes to partially dissolve, then stir to dissolve completely - if it hasn't all dissolved, heat in the microwave for a few seconds. Have the electric mixer ready, and pour the gelatine mixture into the cheese mixture. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate, then quickly fold in the diced mango. Pour over the biscuit base and place in the fridge for a few hours to set (I left mine overnight).
When ready to serve, sprinkle with desiccated coconut and finish with mint leaves, if you like.
Do you like the look of this mango and avocado salsa?
It's a creamy, guacamole-style avocado dip with chilli and lots of fresh herbs (basil, mint and coriander), beautiful sweet chunks of ripe, juicy mango, and lashings of zesty lime goodness.
Zesty lime, mango and avocado salsa:
- A large handful of basil, mint and coriander (about 20g each) - save a few leaves for garnishing
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped (or half a chilli if you're not keen on spice!)
- 3 very ripe avocadoes, stone removed and flesh scooped out with a spoon
- 2 tbsp sour cream or yoghurt
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 ripe mango
Put the herbs and chilli in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes, avocadoes, sour cream or yoghurt, lime juice and zest, and salt, and blitz until you have a fairly chunky purée. Taste and season - you may want a little more salt, herbs or lime juice. (If you don't have a food processor, finely chop the herbs, chilli and tomato by hand, then use a fork or whisk to mash them together with the avocado, sour cream/yoghurt, lime and salt.)
Peel and chop the mango into 5mm cubes. Stir into the avocado mixture, reserving a few mango pieces to scatter over the top. Garnish with a little extra chilli and/or herbs, and serve immediately.
I'm not feeling well. The last couple of days I've been nursing some weird stomach bug, and it has done bizarre things to my appetite. I haven't exactly lost said appetite, which is how I know that this isn't life-threatening. Things are seriously wrong when I can't stomach food. I think the only time it has ever happened was last November when I spent a week in bed with flu. I've now joined the ranks of those who have lost their flu virginity, and will simply not tolerate those ignorant plebs who turn up to work with a slight sniffle and a packet of lemsip complaining that they've "got flu". Chances are, if you've actually got flu, you probably can't even summon up the energy to announce that you've got it, let alone turn up to work or muster the presence of mind to get some lemsip. After my week of flu, I marvelled that I hadn't got bedsores, so much time had I spent rolling around pitifully in my stagnant bed of pain, listening to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry reading a Harry Potter audiobook on repeat. The book started to seep into my dreams, strange montages of Horcruxes and house-elves and evil Slytherins that dispersed only when I woke for long enough to marvel inwardly at how utterly crap my life was at that moment and how I wished someone would come along and put me into a coma until it was over.
So that was flu. This I can tell is not flu, simply by the fact that I still want to eat. I didn't eat for four days during that tragic episode; the only thing that passed my lips was some Lucozade, which promptly passed back out of my lips into the bin. Even worse, I didn't want to think about food. How on earth do you imagine I passed my bedridden days? I had simply nothing to occupy my mind. I couldn't even think about what I wanted to cook once it was all over, so nauseous was I feeling at the time. Eventually, however, my appetite returned with a vengeance, although all I wanted to eat were crumpets. Doused in butter, seeping through the little holes onto the plate, rich and salty and saturated in all the calories I'd lost by festering away in a mire of illness. My jeans hung off my legs - I could feel them practically flapping around my calves as I went for my first post-flu foray out of my house into the street. My eyes had gone all sunken, my face was horribly gaunt, and I generally looked a sad, emaciated mess. Perhaps some girls would have been slightly pleased at the loss of several pounds that comes with a week in bed (if you're going to suffer, you may as well lose a few pounds in the process, I guess). I was just disgusted by my haggard appearance, and heaped more butter onto those toasty crumpets.
Unfortunately, all this bug seems to be doing to me at the moment - apart from making me feel nauseous, lethargic and dizzy - is increasing my appetite for all the wrong things. I came into the house and absent-mindedly ate a chocolate biscuit and drank a glass of orange juice. Seeing as I normally neither eat biscuits nor drink juice, something is clearly amiss. My dinner? Buttery crumpets. Crumpets topped with melted cheese and toasted under the grill until bubbling and oozing with grease. I am craving chocolate brownies, toast with butter, a block of cheddar, a flapjack, a scone. I wish I could legitimately say that perhaps I've been too health-conscious of late and my body is craving fat and sugar, but unfortunately this is a complete lie, as I've spent the last week stuffing my face full of scones, cobbler, Michelin-star lunches and Indian restaurant food in Yorkshire. Oops. My mum suggested maybe my tummy has become used to such indulgent fare and is protesting at the notion of it being taken away.
So here I am, having decided I should probably write a blog post as it's been a while and I don't want my readers to feel left out. Yet all those delicious creations I've photographed and have been saving up for this very moment just make me want to be sick. All of them, except this ice cream. This may well be because of its high cream and sugar content - just the thing I apparently seem to need at the moment. If there were some in the freezer, it would be sitting next to me in a bowl as I write. Unfortunately it's all gone, but the memory still remains, so I feel I should share it with you before I lose the ability to think about food at all (P.S. just in case I do get struck down with flu - if anyone has a Harry Potter audiobook that isn't the Half Blood Prince and wants to send it to me, that'd be great. Thanks.)
I completely forget where I got the idea for this ice cream. I know it partly arose from the need to use up my vast stash of honey mangoes. I think the idea for the mango ripple came before the idea for the avocado base. It was possibly an extension of one of my favourite salsas to serve with fish - mango, avocado, lime, chilli, and lots of herbs (mint, coriander, basil). I figured the sweet, almost bland creaminess of the avocado would be a lovely foil for a delicious, lime-infused honey mango purée. Perhaps the idea of avocado in a dessert is a bit weird, but it is technically a fruit, and it does have such a lovely oily, creamy texture that it seems almost natural to turn it into an ice cream. A quick google will show that - sadly - I'm not the first to come up with this idea. However, I do seem to be the first to include a mango ripple, so I'll marvel at my culinary ingenuity on that account.
For the avocado ice cream base, I just put three very ripe avocadoes (stone removed, obviously - that wouldn't be pretty) into a blender with some sugar, whipping cream, lime juice and salt. For the mango ripple, I again just put things in a blender - two honey mangoes and some more lime juice. I churned the avocado ice cream until frozen, then layered it in a tub with the mango coulis for a ripple effect. Into the freezer it went, just awaiting some lovely summer weather. Naturally, it waited for a while, this being England. In fact, I don't think it was a particularly summery day when I served it, but I couldn't wait any longer. It's very good with strawberries macerated in a little sugar and basil, though I was originally going to serve it with basil shortbread - I just couldn't be bothered, in the end, to bake anything (a phrase you won't hear on this blog often).
Unfortunately, I am now experiencing another wave of nausea and the ice cream is no longer sounding as delicious as it did a few minutes ago. I'd better finish this post before I say something that will put you off it, because it really is delicious. The avocado ice cream alone is gorgeous without the mango, but it just helps to give it a little sharp sweetness which is nice against that pale green cream. If you manage to find some ripe mangoes (try markets - supermarket specimens often never ripen), give this a go - it's literally just putting some things in a blender. It also goes well with all sorts of summer berries, as well as tropical fruits like mango, and - I reckon - lychees.
Avocado mango ripple ice cream (makes half a litre):
- Flesh of 3 ripe avocadoes
- 160g caster sugar
- 300ml whipping/double cream
- A pinch of salt
- A squeeze of lime juice, to taste
- 2 ripe mangoes
- Put the avocado flesh, sugar, cream, lime juice and salt in a blender. Blitz to a smooth creamy mixture, then taste - you might want a little more lime juice. Churn in an ice cream maker until frozen.
Meanwhile, place the mango flesh in the blender with a squeeze more lime juice and blitz to a purée.
Put a third of the avocado ice cream in a tub then spoon over a third of the coulis. Repeat, layering the ice cream and coulis until you've used it all up. Put a lid on and place in the freezer to firm up. Serve with strawberries and basil, or just as it is.
I was amazed by the number of responses to a recent Facebook status of mine. I simply updated the world with the fact that "Elly McCausland may have just purchased twenty mangoes", and an hour or so later there were 24 comments. I usually think of this blog as pure self-indulgence, a way of reminding myself that perhaps I'm not completely useless in life and can at least throw together a decent meal and take a half-decent photo. I still think that no one actually reads my posts or cares about the super-delicious cake I baked yesterday or my plans for this season's fruit. Yet I'm constantly surprised by the rate at which my readers are growing (I don't mean literally, though if they are also cooking from this blog as well as reading it, they may well be growing physically too!) Every time I receive a comment on a blog post it feels like an exciting novelty. Few things have made me happier than the time a friend made my fruit cheesecake recipe and posted pictures of the success on Facebook, or when another friend of mine informed me that her mum had been using recipes from my blog, because "it's such a good cooking resource!" I appreciate every single comment, whether from friends who are my avid followers and seem to read about everything I make, or from people I don't know who have just stumbled across this blog and found they rather liked it (they were probably looking for Jamie Oliver's fish recipe or Nigella's teriyaki chicken, which is how most people find this site...but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a quick google of 'Elly McCausland's sheer gastronomic genius' is the most popular referral for this blog).
So thank you, everyone who reads and/or says nice things about Nutmegs, Seven. It's lovely to know that there are so many people out there who not only condone but actively support my greed.
It seemed everyone cared about my purchase of twenty mangoes, which was good in that it made me feel a little less tragic for being the food equivalent of a bag lady, buying bulk quantities of fruit in season and hoarding it like a mad thing. I couldn't resist; the boxes were three for £10 and I still feel like there is so much culinary potential inherent in these golden beauties that just has to be tried out now before they disappear until next year.
Incidentally, I wanted to share an anecdote with my avid readers. It has long been a suspicion of mine that mass-produced supermarket fruit and veg just doesn't taste as good as that you either pick yourself or get from markets and smaller producers. However, I have often told myself that this is just snobbery, and that I need to make my peace with Tesco because, fundamentally, fruit is fruit. However, the other week I received nigh-categorical proof that I am actually correct. You know these Pakistani mangoes I've been raving about for weeks? I've probably bought about eight boxes now, all from the Indian grocers down Cowley Road in Oxford. That's nearly 40 mangoes. They're not always in the same packaging, so I suspect they're from different suppliers, but the quality has been consistent and the mangoes always have the same addictive, ambrosial, slightly musky sweetness and beautiful golden flesh. They're miles off anything I've ever had from a supermarket; even the best supermarket mangoes, compared to these, are watery, underripe, and lacking in complexity, flavour-wise.
Imagine my surprise when I saw my local Tesco, one of those small metro ones you get in city centres, stocking boxes of Pakistani mangoes for £5 each (four large mangoes per box). I was very surprised; usually Pakistani and Indian mangoes are a well-kept secret, something that the supermarkets can't be bothered with, probably due to the faff of transporting perfectly ripe fruit on a huge scale. I've certainly never seen them in mainstream stores, but here they were. Intrigued to compare them to the mangoes I'd already gorged myself on, I bought a box. The best way to judge whether to get a box of mangoes is if you can smell their ripe scent from a foot away. Unfortunately these were wrapped in plastic so I couldn't judge, but they felt fairly ripe (again, a first for a supermarket mango).
Can you guess which is which? (The smaller one is from the Indian grocer, the oblong giant in the background is Tesco's offering).
And guess what, dear readers? They weren't the same. Firstly, they were larger and more uniformly shaped than the other variety. Secondly, they didn't have that seductive aroma. Thirdly, they tasted different. Texturally, they were similar to the mangoes I'd got in Cowley; the flesh did have that buttery ripeness, but it was slightly paler, without that shocking marigold hue, and slightly firmer to bite into. Somehow, the flavour just wasn't the same. It was more reminiscent of your average supermarket mango; not as sweet, more tart, without that intense, sugary hit of nectar I was so enamoured of. They were definitely nice, and definitely better than normal stringy mangoes from Tesco, but they were very different and slightly inferior to the others. I'd say they were a perfected version of the supermarket mango breed, but the supermarket mango is fundamentally inferior. Interestingly, a week or so later, the Tesco mangoes are in much better condition than the other ones, which have started to crinkle and go a bit black, which again makes me wonder what kind of weird things Tesco do to their produce to give it a longer shelf life.
Being a bit sad, I thought this was really interesting - it seems to prove my point that the supermarkets do seem to get hold of the more bland and unexciting produce, and taint it with their obsessive desire for uniformity and a pristine though flavourless product. Even though these mangoes were also Pakistani, and looked similar to the ones I was used to, they did not match up on quality. Maybe there is something in my hunch that fruit really does taste better when it's been nowhere near the soulless, sterile confines of a supermarket.
Back to my twenty mangoes, then (some of which were these Tesco ones). I had several suggestions on Facebook as to how to use them: sorbet, grilled, in a guacamole, mashed in a cake like banana, in a tart, in a curd...my mind was racing with possibilities. I tried a couple of savoury recipes, like the smoked chicken and mango rice salad, but it was the dessert potential that excited me more (because, let's face it, I love dessert). Since my mango cheesecake had been such a success, I decided to further explore the combination of ripe mango with creamy dairy. Initially I was going to make a tart with a coconut and biscuit crust, filled with coconut-scented pastry cream and topped with sliced mango and raspberries. Now that I've just typed that, I cannot for the life of me remember why I didn't make it...am I mad?!
I think reality got in the way; we didn't get home until late and the last thing I wanted to do was faff around making pastry cream (in my head it's always really simple...but it involves a lot of different bowls, pans and general mess, as well as patience to sit and stir a mixture that is apparently never going to thicken). However, there was a pack of filo pastry that needed using, as well as half a tub of ricotta. Ricotta is now my preferred filling for fruit tarts; I can't believe it doesn't seem to be more widely used. All you need to do is stir in a little icing sugar and you have an instant foil for a topping of ripe, juicy fruit. You retain that slight dairy tang, which is a beautiful match for sweetness of any kind, and it has more texture against the fruit than pastry cream. It's basically a sort of lazy person's cheesecake.
I made little filo tart shells and filled them with ricotta. In this case I didn't actually sweeten it at all, because the mangoes are so sweet. Instead, I grated in the zest of a lime and a little juice. The ricotta still had a subtle cheese flavour but also the wonderful zestiness of citrus. Seeing no point in messing with such a wonderful raw material, I just sliced the mangoes into strips and laid them atop the creamy filling.
The basil sugar was a last-minute thought. We have four basil plants sitting in the kitchen now, after I brought two home from Oxford, and I guess they caught my eye as I was making these tarts. I'm a big believer in the sweet uses of basil, churned in ice cream or torn roughly over strawberries or peaches. I just had a hunch that it would work well with the mango, its sharp fragrance tempering the intense sweetness of the golden flesh. Basil is also excellent with lime, so it seemed a possibility worth exploring.
Rather than chop it and stir it into the ricotta, which I thought might end up with the unpleasant sensation of big bits of herb in your teeth, I whizzed it in the food processor with some granulated sugar. Again, I have no idea where this idea came from. I'm sure the combination is stored deep in my long-term gastronomic memory; maybe I read a recipe for it once or ate it in a restaurant (though the latter is unlikely, as I can remember pretty much any meal I've ever eaten in a restaurant). I was sure it would be a success as soon as I tasted a little of the green, fragrant crystals: like the first time I tasted my homemade basil ice cream, I was amazed at the magic a little sugar can work on an ingredient as basic as basil. It's almost as if it belongs with sugar just as much as it belongs with tomatoes.
I scattered the sugar over the tarts, and that was it. They were totally and utterly delicious. The filo was wafer-thin, turning from crispy to meltingly soft in the mouth. The ricotta was zesty from the lime but still thick, creamy and crumbly, an ideal blanket for the mangoes, whose sugary juice and unctuous flesh was gorgeous against the cheese and pastry. Finally, the fragrant crunch of the basil sugar balanced all the flavours and added an intriguing herbal note. I never would have put mango and basil together in a sweet dish before; now I can't wait to experiment with the combination again.
These tarts are incredibly easy to put together, and they're a perfect way to show off the quality of some really good mangoes (so I'd recommend you don't use Tesco ones!)
So tell me, dear readers - have you noticed a real difference between supermarket and non-supermarket produce? Or is it just me? And, most importantly, what would you do with twenty mangoes?
Honey mango tartlets with basil sugar (makes 4):
- 2 sheets filo pastry
- Melted butter
- Half a tub of ricotta cheese
- Zest of a lime and 2 tsp juice
- 1-2 honey mangoes
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- About 10 leaves of basil
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Brush one of the filo sheets with the melted butter and layer the other over the top. Brush four mini tart tins with melted butter. Cut the filo sheet into squares large enough to fill each tart tin - my filo cut into nine, but if your sheets are bigger you might manage twelve. Place one square inside each tart tin, then brush it with melted butter and layer over another, tucking the edges in neatly. You will have one square left - either add it to one of the tins or throw it away.
Brush the pastry cases with melted butter, prick the bases with a fork and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove and leave to cool, then take out of the tins and line up on a plate.
Mix the ricotta with the lime zest and juice - taste, you might want more lime juice. Spoon it into the cooled pastry cases. Peel and slice or cube the mangoes - I only used one, but if you want more mango on the tarts then use two - and arrange the fruit on top of the ricotta.
For the basil sugar, place the sugar and basil in a blender and whizz until blended, fragrant and green. Sprinkle over the tarts to serve.
I was once trying to decide what to cook for a group of hungry navy people at our weekly drill night. The options were beef goulash, or an all-time favourite of mine: chicken with apricots, almonds and coriander. Unable to decide (as so often in my life), I asked a friend of mine who shares my passion for all things edible. He suggested that the latter sounded "much more of an 'Elly' dish, being full of fruit". Such is my love of introducing the sweet, tart and juicy to savoury dishes that apparently they deserve to be named after me. I'm practically up there with the likes of Caesar, Eve and Arnold Bennett (of salad, apple pudding and omelette fame, respectively). Incidentally, for those of you who, like me, are now curious about the number of foodstuffs named after people, Wikipedia has an excellent article on the subject here. It's surely only a matter of time before dishes like this salad appear on the list as "Elly dishes".
(Disclaimer: I don't actually have such an over-inflated and grandiose sense of self-importance that I really believe I am unique and revolutionary in liking fruit in my savoury dishes, or that I deserve to have food named after me).
It's no secret that I'm in love with the current influx of honey mangoes from Pakistan. If I told you I was bathing in their juice and sleeping on a bed of their skins, you probably wouldn't be surprised (though I'm not, by the way - I like food but I also like not being sticky, yellow, and an attraction for wasps). After the amazing success that was my mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake I decided to branch out into savoury mango recipes, suspecting that no dessert recipe could ever quite top the sheer brilliance that is that cheesecake. Because these mangoes are so ripe and sweet, I thought they'd make a good match with more assertive savoury flavours. I tried them out in a salsa with barbecued mackerel - I normally make this to serve with oily fish, using chopped mango, avocado, chilli, lime juice, basil, coriander and mint. This time I omitted the avocado and used a chopped Granny Smith apple, because I had an inkling that its crunch would be a nice contrast with the very ripe mango; avocadoes have a similar texture and I worried it would be a bit mushy. Apple and mango juice has been one of my all-time favourite things since childhood; I really believe no other combination of fruit juices can match it for sheer ambrosial goodness. The salsa was a triumph; the tart apple balanced out the excessive sweetness of the mango, and the fresh herbs and lime juice lent it a beautiful sharpness that worked well with the charred mackerel.
I then had the idea of transforming those flavours into a salad, with wild or brown rice, flaked smoked mackerel, herbs, chilli, lime and mango, and maybe some cucumber added for texture. In the market, with the intention of buying smoked mackerel, I caught sight of these whole smoked chickens in the butchers. I'd thought about using chicken instead of mackerel in the recipe, but worried it would be a bit bland to work with the sweet mango and punchy herbs. Smoked chicken, however, I thought would be excellent, and perhaps not as cloying as smoked mackerel sometimes can be. I bought one of the chickens, figuring it would feed me and a friend. How wrong I was. I sat down to strip the meat off the bones, and about ten minutes later I was still going, a huge pile of shredded chicken mounting on the chopping board. If you've never tried smoked chicken before, I cannot recommend it enough. The smell is incredible; it will permeate your kitchen and fridge for days (which I think is a good thing, but I suppose it depends what else is in your fridge). The meat is incredibly tender, because it's still on the bone, and the skin a gorgeous burnished colour. It was also brilliant value - I got mine from the organic butchers, and it was still less than £6, which provides enough meat to easily feed five in this salad. If you often find chicken a bit boring, try it smoked. I can't wait to experiment with it in other salads. Incidentally, smoked duck and turkey are also fabulous.
For the salad, I cooked some brown rice (it has more texture and flavour than white, so works better in salads, though if I'd had some I would have used a mixture of brown and wild rice for even more texture and colour). I mixed in the shredded chicken, then made a dressing by blitzing a ripe mango in the blender with some lime juice, a dash of sweet chilli sauce, and huge handfuls of herbs: basil, mint and coriander. This is, in my opinion, the holy trinity of herbs. They're wonderful on their own, but combined they give off the most incredible zesty aroma and flavour. However, if you don't want to buy all three, any of them would be fine on their own. I chopped up another mango and stirred it into the salad, and finally added some chopped cucumber, for a lovely mellow crunchiness. It works best if you stir the mango dressing into the rice while still hot, as it soaks it all up, and then leave it to cool for a bit before adding the mango and cucumber. I also chopped up some more herbs and stirred them in at the end.
I absolutely love this salad. The flavours in it are just incredible - the chicken is so rich and dense, but it's lifted perfectly by the sweet and soft mango, and then the mixture of vibrant herbs and lime juice prevents the whole thing from cloying. The rice is a beautiful nutty canvas for the other flavours, and the cucumber provides a refreshing crunch. It's best served at room temperature, but keeps well in the fridge - you can just microwave it for a few seconds to take the chill off it before serving. I added extra fresh mango when serving it for the second and third time, just to perk it up a bit. I'm no nutritionist, but I think this is a pretty good healthy lunch or dinner - protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, plus large bunches of vibrant green herbs which always make me feel healthy just looking at them. It's immensely filling so you don't need very much, though the temptation to eat a large plateful is immense, given its deliciousness. When honey mangoes are out of season, you can just use normal ripe mangoes, and if you don't have chicken, use mackerel, and if you want to use white rice, do. It's a very versatile combination of ingredients but the basic mango/herb/lime dressing makes whatever you do with it taste incredible.
Smoked chicken and mango rice salad (serves 4-5):
- 300g brown rice (or a mixture of basmati/brown and wild rice)
- 2 honey mangoes, stoned, peeled and chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus another lime for serving
- Large handfuls each of basil, coriander and mint
- 1-2 tsp sweet chilli sauce
- A smoked chicken, meat pulled from the bones and shredded (or normal leftover chicken, or 4 smoked mackerel fillets)
- Half a cucumber, sliced and each slice quartered (or more if you love cucumber!)
- Salt and pepper
First, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the rice, and boil according to the packet instructions - mine took around 45 minutes. When cooked but still with a bit of bite (brown rice doesn't go soft like white, it still has some crunch to it), drain and place in a large bowl.
While the rice is cooking, place one of the mangoes in a blender along with the lime juice and zest, the chilli sauce (use 1tsp and then add more if you think it needs it) and the herbs. Blitz to a runny paste, then toss with the rice in the bowl so it's evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken and toss everything together. Allow to cool for a little while then add the cucumber and the other mango.
Toss through a few more herbs, if you like, then serve with the other lime cut into wedges for squeezing over.
I can't get enough of these honey mangoes. The day they stop appearing in the Indian grocers is going to be a sorrowful occasion. I might hold a small mango funeral and make a mango graveyard with the stones from my last box of mangoes, wearing yellow instead of black and crooning a mournful ode to the king of fruits. Except I won't actually do that, because that would be bordering on creepy and obsessive. Until that tragic day arrives, however, I'm compulsively buying boxes of mangoes and attempting to incorporate them into every meal. I'm getting weird looks from people at the gym and the swimming pool: the mango shop is en route, so I usually arrive at the sports centre with a bottle of water and iPod in one hand, and three large boxes proclaiming themselves 'FRUITY FRESH' in the other which I then stow away secretively in a locker, with a final farewell caress, lest some common pleb get their hands on my glorious edible treasure. It's testament to how beautiful these fruits are that when I open the locker an hour later, it no longer smells of people's sweaty gym gear, but instead is fragrant with the heady perfume of golden mango flesh.
Sometimes when I am eating these mangoes, golden juice dribbling unattractively down my chin and often my forearm, I cannot quite believe that something that tastes so damn good can actually be good for you. I mean, I love fruit of all kinds, but these mangoes are almost sinfully delicious. Delicious in a kind of way that you'd normally only associate with things that clog your arteries. Delicious in a way that makes you want to suck every last drop of juice from the stone in a greedy and rather impolite fashion. Delicious in a way that means you can't help nibbling a few pieces as you slice them up for your boyfriend's breakfast, and consequently he gives you a rather intent look for a couple of seconds as he enters the kitchen before declaring accusingly, "I see evidence!" You look in the mirror, and there it is. An orange moustache. As unambiguous as fingerprints on a murder weapon. Caught in the act of mango ingestion.
After the success of my mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake, I wanted to recreate something similar in breakfast form. A honey mango is a brilliant breakfast food: it's soft and ripe enough not to be too texturally demanding first thing in the morning, but it's also juicy and tangy enough to wake up your tastebuds, and sweet enough to feel like a real indulgence. Plus that gorgeous marigold colour makes you feel like you're getting sunshine in the morning even if it's grey and drizzly outside (which, this being England, is rather likely). Just chopping up these beautiful fruits makes the morning a little bit better. Especially because of the cook's perk that is the mango stone. The flesh that clings to its contours is impossible to extract with a knife; it has to be extracted by one's teeth, sucked clean like a carcass in a rapturous and greedy fashion. I think that when I cook with these mangoes, only about 60% of each one makes it into the finished dish. The rest ends up in my stomach. It makes sense; it would be a waste to throw the fleshy stone into the bin, with so much deliciousness surrounding it, so I'm actually being eco-friendly rather than gluttonous.
I was going to try the mangoes out in pancakes, but wasn't sure what would happen. I've never cooked a mango, and I can't really see how it would add anything. Like strawberries, I think they're probably best enjoyed as they are. Also, these honey mangoes are so juicy that I'm worried that they'd turn to mush during cooking, like strawberries - anything with a high water content like that doesn't take well to heat. I'm still tempted to try them in a coconut-scented pancake batter, but French toast seemed a safer option. One of my favourite ways of having fruit for breakfast is to place it against a fairly bland canvas of sweet bread or plain pancake batter; that way its colours and flavours get to shine. It also means you rarely need to add any sugar to your breakfast, because the flavour of the fruit is intense enough. I probably eat enough sugar during the day without having to have it for breakfast too (although I make an exception for jam, which is an excellent substance).
I've made vanilla- and almond-flavoured French toast before, to pair with rhubarb or strawberries for the former and apricots for the latter. You get the merest hint of flavour, but the fruit is complemented rather than overpowered. For coupling with mangoes, coconut was the obvious choice, especially as it had worked so well with my cheesecake. I added a little coconut essence to the milk and egg mixture for soaking the bread, and then sprinkled the bread with desiccated coconut before pan-frying. I'd normally sprinkle it with demerara sugar: it caramelises but stays crunchy in the heat, which is what I was hoping to achieve with the coconut. It just adds a nice contrast in texture and an interesting fresh, clean, slightly sweet flavour.
The dense, rich texture of the bread against the juicy mangoes is a delightful combination for breakfast. You're getting all that satisfying starch but it's balanced by the sharpness of crunchy blueberries and the fragrant juice of the golden mangoes. I'm not sure why I put blueberries with the mangoes; I think largely it was an unconscious decision based on how good the colours would look against each other, but most berries would work, or possibly banana or pineapple, or you could just use mango. The blueberries do provide a nice change in texture; these honey mangoes are so ripe that they just melt away in your mouth. You almost need the thick toast to remind you that you're actually eating something. I used wholemeal bread for vaguely health-conscious reasons, but I actually think white would be better with the coconut flavouring.
Yet another dish that I am going to have to mourn when the mangoes run out. Alas.
Coconut French toast with mango and blueberries (serves 2):
- 4 slices from a stale loaf of bread (or slice a fresh loaf and leave the slices out overnight to harden)
- 250ml milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp coconut essence (or you could use vanilla)
- 6 tbsp desiccated coconut
- Butter, for frying
- 2 honey mangoes, peeled and sliced
- Half a punnet of blueberries
Beat the egg with the milk and coconut essence, then pour into a baking dish. Lay the bread in the mixture for 10 minutes, then turn over and leave for another 10 minutes - you want it to absorb all the liquid. If it still has dry patches and all the liquid has gone, add a bit more milk.
Heat a large knob of butter in a frying pan until foaming. Sprinkle the upward side of the bread with half the desiccated coconut, then place it coconut side down in the butter. Sprinkle the other side with the rest of the coconut while it sizzles in the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes until golden, then flip over and cook for another 5 minutes or so - it should be quite firm.
Serve the toast piled high with the fruit scattered over, and maybe a bit more desiccated coconut sprinkled on top.
O, Alphonso mango season. How cruelly fleeting you are. Just when I've become hooked again on your luscious, juicy, fiery fruits of joy they are barbarously snatched away from under my nose and I am plunged headlong into a pit of gastronomic despair, forced to pine away for the next year in anticipation of the next time I can suck the honeyed nectar from those orbs of liquid gold, forced to make do with green-skinned, string-fleshed supermarket specimens that take a lifetime to ripen and then are never worth the wait. Here I sit, quietly weeping in my pit of despair, a bowl of inferior mangoes sitting in my fruit bowl, dreading the inevitable moment when I slice them open to reveal pale yellow mush with the mouthfeel of garden twine, fit only for the smoothie maker. Oh, alas.
Overdramatic? No. If you've ever tasted an Alphonso mango, you will understand my sorrow. Indeed, the first time I introduced a friend of mine to an Alphonso mango, she texted me the following:
"Elly this mango is divine. I literally feel like it might transubstantiate on its way down my oesophagus."
Enough said, really. However, for those of you sharing in my distress, there is a remedy. The honey mango.
These mangoes start to arrive just as the Alphonso season ends. They come from Pakistan and, like Alphonso mangoes, will rarely be found in the supermarket. You're most likely to obtain these treasures from an Indian grocery shop, where they are sold by the box at often bargainous prices (I got two boxes - nine mangoes - for £7). The tell-tale sign that these are something special, wildly different from the supermarket variety, is the aroma that greets you as you stand within a three metre radius of them. 'Honey' mangoes suddenly seems a very accurate name: the scent of them hangs thick and heavy in the air, sweet and musky, almost sickly but in a beautiful way, with notes not only of honey but also of toffee and butterscotch. The boxes sat on my desk for a day, tantalisingly emitting their heady aroma as I tried to work; eventually I succumbed. I sliced the flesh away from the stone, cut it into a hedgehog shape and sucked it from the skin. The juice is likely to dribble down your wrist as you eat one of these mangoes. That is how a mango should be.
Not quite Alphonsos, but I think these mangoes have a charm of their own. They lack the tartness of an Alphonso mango, possessing a rather more mellow, sultry flavour. It's earthy, somehow, and musky. While probably not flavoursome enough to hold their own in a sorbet, I really wanted to try out a dessert with these mangoes, especially because they were fairly cheap, unlike the Alphonsos, which I couldn't bear - at nearly £2 a mango - to do anything with other than suck them greedily from the skin until my mouth was neon yellow. I've never attempted to cook a mango, and decided nothing good could come of it in this case, so any form of tart or crumble was out. I hate cream, so a mango fool was not an option. I don't know why I'm even saying this, as it's not as if that was my actual thought process. No - I just immediately went "cheesecake". And that was it.
As I said, I didn't want to cook these gorgeous specimens, so an unbaked cheesecake was going to be the way forward. I deliberated for a while about exactly what I wanted this cheesecake to be. Very light, quite firmly set, studded with pieces of juicy, slightly grainy mango flesh. A crunchy biscuit base to contrast. A filling not overly sweet, to allow the mango to shine. I toyed with the idea of a lime-flavoured cheese filling, but I worried about overpowering the mango. What I really wanted was something quite rich and creamy, but ultimately fairly subtle, to complement the stunning golden flesh. I settled on coconut, after contemplating both vanilla and white chocolate. Mango and coconut are about as right for each other as me and Alphonso mangoes. They are a happy, happy partnership (albeit one tinged with sadness and crushing withdrawal symptoms - like all good relationships, I suppose).
The best thing about this is how simple the recipe is. The biscuit base is a classic mixture of crumbled digestive biscuits and melted butter. Or at least, it was before I had a brainwave. Cardamom. Maybe it's because I associate mangoes with India, and to me cardamom is a quintessentially Indian spice. As I removed the baked cheesecake base from the oven, it suddenly occurred to me that some cardamom in there could be no bad thing. Too late to mix it into the biscuits, I just crushed a few pods and sprinkled the ground seeds over the top of the base. I was worried it would be too overpowering, but in fact I think it was the secret to this cheesecake's deliciousness.
I think cardamom might be my new favourite spice (but no, you won't be finding me at 'Cardamoms, seven' shortly). It's incredibly hard to pinpoint its flavour. There's something about it that makes me think of citrus, but also a floral quality, which I think is why it works so well with rose. It has a very clean taste, almost lemony, but if asked to describe it in one word, I would fail miserably. Yet I feel, as a cook, there is much to be exploited from cardamom, and I'll definitely be experimenting with it now. It works so well in sweet situations. Against the buttery biscuits of the cheesecake and the subtle coconut mixture, it did something magical.
The actual cake is a simple mixture of Quark (fat free cream cheese), cream cheese, icing sugar, coconut essence, and gelatine to set it. I stirred chopped mango into the mixture before pouring it onto the base to set in the fridge. It's so simple, but the results are so utterly wonderful. To decorate, I was going to just scatter a cubed mango across the top, but then had the idea of cutting the flesh into strips and making a sort of star pattern, laying them across the cake from the middle outwards. After one of them accidentally curled over, I realised a much better idea would be to just lay them across the cake in sinuous randomness. I think it looks beautiful. A sprinkling of desiccated coconut was the finishing touch.
I can safely say that this is the best cheesecake I have ever made. It is even better than I hoped it would be. I guessed the amount of gelatine, but it was absolutely perfect - the set is not too firm, like jelly, but thick enough to enable the cake to slice easily and to almost disappear on the tongue. The chunks of mango add a pleasing juiciness and sweetness, but their flavour is subtle enough to complement the cheese mixture, which has a very slight coconut flavour but one not strong enough to overpower anything - you probably wouldn't guess the coconut was there from the taste, but it definitely adds something extra. The real star, though, is the cardamom biscuit base. I'm now considering making a cardamom-flavoured digestive biscuit, because the two things together are so incredible. It lifts the cheesecake to new heights altogether; buttery, fragrant, sweet with spice.
"This tastes like India", one of my friends said a couple of bites into her piece. I take that as a big compliment, as I have never been to India, but took my inspiration from flavours I associate with the country. Perhaps "this tastes like Pakistan" would have been more accurate, given the provenance of the mangoes, but as this cake is both a homage to the honey mango and a lament for the Alphonso mango (from Mumbai), the Indian connection is important, I feel.
Another excellent bonus of this cheesecake is it's fairly low-fat - Quark has no fat and I used light cream cheese. Without the buttery biscuit base (which reminds me - this video had me crying with laughter earlier in the week - if you've seen Masterchef, even only once, please, please click the link. I guarantee it'll be the funniest thing you've seen all day), you could even say this was a low-fat cheesecake. I even used 'light' digestive biscuits, so I did in fact tell myself it was healthy. Which is great, because then you can eat more of it.
One of my friends also pointed out that, when sliced, the cake looks a bit like one of those decorative soaps you can get with different coloured squarey bits in them (not a great description, but hopefully you know what I mean). I think it looks a bit like nougat. The contrast between the creamy coconut and the chunks of juicy fruit is even better than the rather lovely colour contrast would have you anticipating.
Mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake (serves 6-8):
- 10 digestive biscuits
- 50g butter, melted
- 8 cardamom pods, seeds crushed to a powder
- 2 ripe honey mangoes
- 250g Quark
- 150g light cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 tsp coconut essence
- 1 sachet gelatine
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor and mix with the melted butter and cardamom. Scatter over the base of a greased, lined springform cake tin (mine was 18cm diameter, but 20cm would work too) and press down with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Bake for 5-10 minutes until golden and aromatic. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, mix the Quark, cream cheese, icing sugar and coconut essence together with an electric mixer. Peel one of the mangoes and dice into small cubes.
Place the boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Leave for a couple of minutes to partially dissolve, then stir to dissolve completely - if it hasn't all dissolved, heat in the microwave for a few seconds. Have the electric mixer ready, and pour the gelatine mixture into the cheese mixture. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate, then quickly fold in the diced mango. Pour over the biscuit base and place in the fridge for a few hours to set (I left mine overnight).
To decorate, slice the other mango into thin strips and arrange on top of the cake. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut and finish with mint leaves, if you like.
My food-related habits are so predictable. A couple of weeks ago I emerged from Italy feeling like I'd eaten an entire pig, and had consequently turned into one. I reached for the lime juice, ginger, chilli and Thai fish sauce to make me feel more human and less porcine. A couple of days ago I emerged from Prague, land of (more) pig and omnipresent dumplings, again feeling more like a farmyard animal ready for slaughter than my normal, relatively healthy self. The remedy? Thai food. Or, at least, vaguely Thai food, because this is in no way authentic and I'm sure would make a Thai person weep. There's just something about the freshness of lime juice, chilli, fish sauce and copious quantities of herbs that will bring life back to the most jaded and over-porked palates.
I'm a big fan of Thai papaya salads, in which unripe papaya is tossed with a zingy dressing and lots of chilli. I had it in a Thai restaurant in Oxford once; I had eaten half of it and sweat had started to bead on my brow and my mouth had started to burn, before I realised why: those lovely crunchy green beans I'd been eating in the salad were in fact whole green chillies. And as everyone knows, the smaller and greener the chilli, the greater the oral inferno. Still, it was delicious; the interplay of sour, salty, hot and sweet is a hallmark of Thai food and incredibly addictive.
I have therefore created something vaguely similar to the Thai papaya salad, but made a few additions. Firstly, some rice noodles, largely because despite feeling clinically obese I was still pretty hungry and I just knew that, sadly, vegetables alone would not cut it. Secondly, I didn't use papaya, but mango. You can substitute underripe mango for the underripe papaya, which was my intention, but the firm specimen I picked up in the supermarket turned out to be deliciously ripe and juicy. The one time I actually want rock hard supermarket mangoes, and they don't have any! Still, this did not matter, especially as I got to nibble all the bits of flesh from around the stone - cook's perk.
I also grated in some cucumber, for its coolness, added some beansprouts and spring onions, for crunch, and then tossed it all with a dressing. This was made from lime juice, finely chopped garlic and chilli, Thai fish sauce, and some sugar to balance the flavours and take the edge off the chilli. After mixing everything together I added a large amount of herbs: coriander, mint and basil, finely chopped and releasing the most delicious peppery aromas. I love all three of these herbs, but they work particularly well combined together; you get the aniseedy notes from the basil, the lemony freshness from the mint, and the lime notes from the coriander.
Finally, some protein in the form of prawns and langoustines. The former I bought cooked and ready-peeled; the latter still had shells on so I sauteed them in some olive oil until pink and crispy. They perched atop the salad, curled up like little pink commas, and it was ready to go. I think it looks great; the yellow of the mango and green of the herbs flecked with little pinpricks of red chilli and topped with those gorgeous salmon-coloured shellfish. A bowl of healthy goodness.
The different elements in this salad work together really well; the sweetness of the mango stops the dressing from being too hot or sour, and the fragrance of the herbs gives it a lovely freshness. All this goes very well with the rich prawns and langoustines, though you could use chicken or beef or perhaps duck instead. The only thing I'd do differently next time is omit most of the beansprouts, or cook them first: raw, they have an unpleasant bitterness that marred the sweet dressing and mango. It might also be easier to serve the mango, cucumber and dressing on top of a bed of rice noodles, rather than trying to toss the whole thing together; they tend to clump without mixing evenly with the dressing.
Minor issues aside, this is the perfect thing to counteract a little (or a lot, in my case) gastronomic over-indulgence. Not a pig or a dumpling in sight.
Thai-style prawn, noodle, mango and lime salad (serves 4):
- 1 medium-ripe mango, grated
- Half a cucumber, grated
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced diagonally
- 2 limes
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp Thai fish sauce
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- Large handfuls of chopped basil, coriander or mint (or all three)
- A packet of beansprouts, raw or briefly stir-fried, as you prefer
- Rice noodles (enough for 4 - see packet instructions)
- 500-600g raw or cooked prawns or langoustines, or both (or use strips of chicken, beef or duck)
First, cook the rice noodles - just pour over enough boiling water to cover and leave to soak.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Mix the juice of the limes with the chilli, garlic, fish sauce and sugar. Add the mango, cucumber and spring onions. Mix in the herbs (reserve some for garnishing) and beansprouts. Taste - you might want more sugar, fish sauce, lime juice or chilli, depending on your individual preferences.
If your prawns are raw, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until hot, then add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes on each side, or until pink. If they're cooked, just add to the salad as they are (you might like to warm them through).
Divide the noodles between four plates. Top with the dressing and mango mixture, then top that with the cooked prawns. Serve garnished with extra herbs and lime wedges to squeeze over.