It’s a savoury recipe! We all know what that means. Winter, or as it shall henceforth be known, the ‘anti-food-blogging season’, is over, and with its welcome departure come lengthy summer evenings, with the sun still high enough in the sky to guarantee reasonable photo opportunities for one’s dinner. People often ask me why I chose to move to Denmark, and although my usual response is a raised eyebrow and the simple statement ‘er, they offered me money’, I think I might now answer by pointing out the excellent food photography conditions provided by the languid, almost never-ending Scandinavian twilight.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
My arrival in Indonesia was not under the most pleasant circumstances. My plane from Borneo was delayed for nine hours, leaving me stranded at (probably) Malaysia’s tiniest airport after all the shops shut with nothing to eat except for the complementary KFC offered by the AirAsia team when it became clear that, despite the assurances of the man in uniform waiting at the gate that the plane was ‘not delayed’ (he maintained this brave pretence for a good three hours after the time when the plane was supposed to have taken off), the plane was clearly not taking us anywhere anytime soon. I made friends with three very funny Malaysian boys who coaxed me intro trying some of their KFC and found my reluctance absolutely hilarious. I had to cave, after about seven hours. I was expecting this crossing over into the dark side to be sinfully delicious, to initiate me into the guilty pleasures of fast food that I have, for so long, abstemiously avoided. In actual fact, I ate the withered, flabby, tasteless chicken burger in dismay, finding it tasted of very little except the hard-to-place ubiquitous flavour of mass-produced spongy carbs and soggy batter.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
You can keep your chutney. Cheese, for me, is best enjoyed paired with a lusciously ripe piece of sweet fruit to complement its mouth-coating richness and dense, fudgy texture. The exact fruit will depend on the cheese: toffee-scented dates, for example, are best paired with a fairly fresh, tangy cheese like goat’s or feta; stronger, sharper, crumblier cheddars go better with crisp apples or grapes. Having said this, an excellent all-round fruit for pairing with cheese is the pear. Crisp and glassy or soft and yielding in texture, tangy and grassy or delectably syrupy depending on ripeness and variety, there’s a pear to partner almost any cheese you can think of.Read More
You're going to be seeing a lot of avocado recipes on this blog in the foreseeable future. For the next year, I'll be receiving fortnightly baskets of the fruit to experiment with in the kitchen (I'll be talking a bit more about why in a future post). Before I even start on the potential of avocados in the kitchen, though, let me suggest another unexpected use for this beautiful fruit. You may not have realised, but suddenly becoming an ambassador for avocados gets you a surprising number of friends. I have yet to meet anyone in my close social circle who has not, upon hearing my news, promptly and enthusiastically declared themselves a lover of avocados and hinted that they would be willing guinea pigs for any recipe development. Extra friendship points to those who have recommended favourite avocado recipes, and über bonus points to those whose list of avocado recipes included ice cream. You are people after my own heart.
So there you have it. Nutritional powerhouses, definitely; delicious and versatile, yes...but avocados are also a quick and easy enhancer for your social life.
However, avocados do have one serious inadequacy in terms of their culinary usage: they are possibly the least spontaneous ingredient ever. One does not simply decide one day to whip up an avocado salad that evening. Recipes involving avocado need notice: time for you to buy your 'perfectly ripe' specimens from the supermarket, discover they are sour and rock hard, and then postpone your plans for a week or so until the fruit has softened into creamy, buttery jade goodness. By which point all the other ingredients you bought will probably have gone off, so you'll need to start again.
Incidentally, the same rule applies to mangoes. The two fruits are often used together by unrealistic recipe writers who, irritatingly, do not adjust the 'prep time' for their recipes in order to add a week or so's 'ripening time'.
Receiving fortnightly baskets of perfectly ripe avocados is a luxury I do not intend to take for granted. I am very excited to be able to experiment with an ingredient I love but don't get to enjoy enough. My experience with avocados is fairly limited to guacamole, chicken, bacon and avocado salad, and a favourite dish of orzo pasta with broccoli pesto and avocado. I have big plans for these beauties, so watch this space.
This recipe is, if you'll believe it, something I dreamed up on the spur of the moment and 'threw together' in a slightly haphazard fashion. Inspired by some beautiful wild Alaskan salmon that I picked up on special offer, and which seemed too good to ruin with any sort of cooking whatsoever, I decided to serve it as sashimi. Too lazy to bother rolling sushi, I decided to pile all the components of sushi into a bowl: salmon, toasted sesame seeds (I also use nigella seeds when I make sushi, because I love their strong earthy flavour), pickled ginger, cucumber, a sauce of soy and wasabi, and sushi rice mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt. The rice is delicious when freshly cooked and still slightly warm - a completely different taste and texture experience to when it has firmed up and is tightly rolled in seaweed.
I love sushi rolls that feature avocado, in delicious creamy contrast with the tangy rice and the subtly sweet fish (often crab or salmon), so topped my sushi bowl with ripe avocado, mashed with smoked salt and lime juice to bring out its flavour, plus a heavy-handed dose of fresh mint, which might sound unusual with Japanese flavours but works very well - you could, however, use coriander to equally good effect. I also added some cooked soya beans, because one of my favourite Japanese dishes is one of the simplest: sweet, salty steamed edamame beans, fresh from the pods.
I was expecting this to be tasty, but I wasn't quite prepared for how ridiculously delicious it was. Raw fish sometimes lacks flavour, but this salmon was utterly gorgeous, soft but still with that delicious salmon richness. It was the most beautiful coral colour, too, possessing none of those fatty white stripes you get with farmed salmon. The rice was soft and tangy, the seeds nutty and crunchy, while the beans and cucumber added a delicious fresh crunch. The mashed avocado really does make this dish, though, providing a nice bridge between the crunchy ingredients and the sticky rice, the hint of lime sharpening everything up. The tangy pickled ginger and salty soy is essential, making the whole thing moreish and addictive.
This makes me want to throw away my sushi-rolling mat. Why bother, when you can just throw everything into a bowl? It's quick to put together, looks absolutely stunning, and is incredibly healthy (although maybe less so when you consider it's so good that you'll want a second helping).
Sushi bowl with salmon sashimi, avocado, lime, edamame and pickled ginger (serves 2):
- 200g sushi rice
- 320ml water
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ripe avocado
- Juice of half a lime
- 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (I used smoked salt)
- A handful of fresh mint or coriander, finely chopped
- 200g Alaskan salmon, very fresh
- A quarter of a cucumber, finely diced
- A couple of handfuls of cooked soya beans or broad beans
- Pickled ginger (from oriental shops or large supermarkets)
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds
- Soy sauce
First, cook the rice. Rinse it three or four times then drain. Place in a pan with the water, cover with a lid, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes, without removing the lid or disturbing the pan. Meanwhile, mix together the rice vinegar, caster sugar and salt. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Roughly mash, using a fork, with the lime juice, salt and chopped mint or coriander. Set aside.
Once the rice is cooked and has absorbed all the water, stir in the vinegar mixture while still warm. Divide the rice between two bowls. Very finely slice the salmon using a sharp knife, then add to the rice. Spoon the avocado mixture on top. Scatter over the cucumber, soya beans, and some pickled ginger, then sprinkle with the seeds. Mix together a little soy sauce and wasabi, then drizzle this over the bowl and serve immediately.
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.
I don't like rice pudding. Not at all. And I'm not just talking about the weird gloopy stuff you buy in cans or pots, the kind that my boyfriend loves to devour after dinner topped with some tinned pineapple from the tin that I'm eating instead of his horribly ricey concoction. Even the proper homemade stuff. I didn't actually try it until a couple of years ago, when I made a recipe that - on paper - sounded delicious, full of milk and sugar and cardamom and cloves and cinnamon, topped with gorgeous juicy roasted plums. But I totally hated it. The reason? Not, perhaps, what you'd expect. I didn't find it too stodgy. I didn't hate the formation of a slight skin of milk over the top. It wasn't too gloopy for me, or texturally unpleasant.
No. The reason I hated it was simple: it was too similar to porridge.
Wait, wait. This doesn't mean I don't like porridge. Quite the opposite, as anyone who knows me and has watched me devour a bowl of porridge approximately the size of Asia every morning will know. The reason I hated rice pudding so much was that it looked like porridge. Sitting there in its bowl, topped with its lovely plums, it looked exactly like my breakfast. I often have porridge topped with roasted plums. But as soon as the spoon of sweet, ricey goodness was in my mouth I was disgusted.
It looked like porridge. It should have tasted like porridge. But instead it was sickeningly sweet, jarringly so, and too creamy. I couldn't eat much of it. The whole experience just seemed wrong; everything was telling me to expect a bowl full of soothing, bland, mushy oats, totally untempered by sugar of any kind and lent sweetness simply from their fruity topping. Instead it was cavity-inducing and weird.
I haven't tried it since. Maybe it sounds like I don't have much of a good reason, but to be honest I'd much rather use whatever luscious rice pudding toppings are out there (I've seen some fantastic recipes involving caramelised mango...) to decorate my bowl of porridge, and feel a lot less guilty about it seeing as there's no sugar involved. And it's not dessert. Rice for dessert is kind of odd.
Rice pudding, to me, looks far too much like either risotto or porridge, and because it is neither it delivers an unpleasantly surprising eating experience. What can I say? It just doesn't do it for me. Give me a good crumble or treacle tart any day.
However, when I came across a recipe in this month's delicious magazine for torta di riso al profumo d'arancio by Gennaro Contaldo (of 'Two Greedy Italians' fame, with Antonio Carluccio), I was intrigued. The picture looked wonderfully inviting, in a sticky, carbohydrate-dense sort of way. The English translation of its name is 'orange rice cake', which is sadly lacking in elegance compared to the Italian.
I've read about and seen similar cakes before, on both my literal and literary culinary journeys around Italy. They're typical of northern Italy, where rice is a staple crop. I had a wonderful time staying in Vercelli last April eyeing up the countless varieties of rice on offer at the local delis, and it turns out I needn't have bothered, because the hotel where I stayed gave away free bags of branded rice as a farewell gift to every guest. How amazing is that? As if you'd ever find an English hotel doing something similar. What would we give away? Branded bacon sandwiches? Takeaway tubs of shepherd's pie?
This cake uses the now ubiquitous arborio variety of rice. You essentially make a cross between a rice pudding and a risotto, simmering the risotto rice in milk that's infused with citrus zest, vanilla and sugar, before thickening it with egg yolks and lightening it with egg whites and baking it in the oven.
This cake could also be called 'Sicily meets Tuscany'.
I have some gorgeous Sicilian blood oranges sitting in my fridge from a couple of weeks ago, and decided to use their zest and juice in this cake, even though it's of northern Italian origin. Still, my fusion of north and south worked exceptionally well, if the taste of the result is anything to go by. I simmered the rice in milk permeated with the fragrant orange zest (along with a vanilla pod), until it became plump, sweet and gorgeous. In went some raisins, which I think are essential and provide a wonderful contrast both in texture and flavour. Next time I'll use more, and probably add some candied peel as well.
Then egg yolks, whisked with blood orange juice to a light orange cream. The original recipe says Grand Marnier, but I had none and the juice worked fine - though I did add a splash of Drambuie, for good measure. This goes into the rice to bind it together. Finally, egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks. They're folded through the mixture to make it fluffy and mousse-like, and it all goes into a tin and into the oven.
I have to say, despite my hatred of rice pudding, that the cooked rice - having soaked up its milky bath of delights - looked so delicious. Perhaps I may be coming round to the idea. But I doubt it, because when you can take rice pudding to another level completely by baking it in cake form, why on earth would you want to eat it any other way?
This cake is intriguing and delicate. It's sweet and subtle. It's delicious and fragrant. It's satisfying and sticky.
You end up with a very well-risen creation, burnished and crinkly on top where a skin has formed, and with a fluffy crust around the edges like a cheesecake. In fact, it looks very similar to a cheesecake when turned out of the tin. Cut into it, however, and you find a slightly molten centre, still partially liquid from the milky rice, while the outer parts are firm and slightly chewy. Needless to say, it's a very moist, sticky cake - there is, after all, over a litre of milk in it.
Although you can clearly see it's made of rice, this is definitely more cake than rice pudding. It has a wonderfully satisfying cakey texture, with a slight bite to it. Even better, it is decadently rich and creamy, suffused with the perfume of vanilla, orange juice and orange zest. I can't quite describe the flavour, but it reminds me a lot of eating proper French custard - that thick, gorgeous creme patisserie that you find in little pastry fruit tartlets; rich, creamy, with a delicate hint of sweet fragrant flavour. It's quite subtle and not too sweet either; too much sugar I think would just destroy its nuanced flavour. I love the juicy crunch of the raisins, which really enliven the whole creation, though I can't wait to try candied peel as well to continue the Sicilian theme.
I served this simply, dusted with a thick layer of icing sugar (essential, I think, as the cake itself isn't very sweet) and accompanied by slices of blood orange. The fruit goes really well with the cake - as it's quite creamily bland (in a good way), the zestiness of fresh orange slices really works a treat with the thick mass of baked rice.
Please don't be sceptical that I'm giving you risotto baked into a cake. This is really, really lovely. It would make a perfect mid-afternoon snack with a cup of coffee, and also makes an unusual dessert - though, being predominantly rice, it is quite filling, so plan your preceding courses carefully!
If you're a rice pudding hater, don't worry. This is not rice pudding. It is torta di riso al profumo d'arancio, and mamma mia, is it good. It's nursery food, dressed up with Italian elegance and style, made exotic and sexy.
And if you don't think rice is sexy, try bathing it in milk fragrant with sweet vanilla and orange zest. You might just change your mind.
Vanilla and blood orange rice cake (serves 6-8):
(Recipe adapted from delicious. magazine, May 2012 issue)
- 1.1 litres milk (I used semi-skimmed)
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- Zest of 1 blood orange
- 130g caster sugar
- 200g arborio rice
- 50ml blood orange juice
- 2 tsp Drambuie or Grand Marnier (optional)
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 70g raisins
- Icing sugar, to serve
- Blood oranges, to serve
Put the milk, sugar, orange zest and vanilla pod in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer for 25 minutes until the rice has absorbed most of the milk, and is cooked but still slightly al dente. Leave to cool - while it cools, the rice should absorb the rest of the milk, turning into a thick, creamy mass. Add the raisins.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan oven. Grease and line a 20-23cm springform cake tin.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the orange juice and liqueur (if using) until thick and creamy. Stir into the cooled rice. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold a third of them into the rice mixture to loosen it. Once loosened, fold in the rest of the egg whites.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 60-75 minutes, until the centre is quite firm to the touch and a skewer comes out mostly clean. Halfway through the cooking time, cover the cake with foil to stop the top browning too much.
Leave to cool, then serve at room temperature dusted with icing sugar and garnished with sliced blood oranges.
Whenever I cook with nuts, I find myself thinking about which is my absolute favourite. I suppose in the same way I often wonder which meat or fish I would choose if I could only eat one for the rest of my life (I still ponder this question in moments of boredom, but I think it'd have to be lamb, for its sheer culinary versatility, and mackerel, again for the same reason). I can never reach a conclusion, though, I think because nuts have such diverse flavours and are suited to such a range of different culinary applications. Hazelnuts, to me, belong firmly in the realm of sweet things - desserts with chocolate or pears or bananas, for example. Then there are almonds, which are usually too bland to use in desserts but taste wonderful toasted and added to fragrant Middle Eastern or Indian dishes. Pistachios have a toasty gorgeousness that I love both with fruit - apricots in particular - but also with some meat dishes. I wouldn't normally cook with brazil nuts, but their grainy creaminess is wonderful in muesli.
Sometimes, though, I think the pecan is 'the one'.
Attractively shaped, easily crumbled (unlike almonds or hazelnuts, which are an absolute pain to attempt to chop without a food processor), the pecan possesses a richness that makes it interesting enough to stand up to strong flavours, both sweet and savoury. Pecans are wonderful with chocolate and bananas, for example, but also delicious in savoury dishes, as this amazing recipe proves.
I received Diana Henry's beautiful book Roast Figs, Sugar Snow for Christmas. I admit, I largely requested it on the strength of its title, without really looking at what it was about. Anyone who reads this blog will know I am a fiend for figs. When it arrived, I discovered it to be a book full of recipes from colder climates - "food to warm the soul", as its subtitle proclaims. What a brilliant idea, I thought - how has there not been such a book before? Having just returned from a week of skiing in the Alps, I recognised the familiar tartiflette and cheese fondue gracing its pages, as well as other dishes to be reserved for days of strenuous physical activity, such as an Austrian pasta creation that includes nearly a litre of sour cream. Might save that one for a time when I'm not still eating my way through the Christmas cake.
The book is beautiful, divided into chapters based on classic warming winter ingredients, like chestnuts, apples, quinces, smoked food, game, cream, pork and beans. I particularly liked the section on cranberries, where Diana bemoaned the fact that we reserve them for the Christmas sauce only, rather than making the most of their refreshing tart sweetness in recipes all year round. There's a recipe for a pecan and cranberry upside-down cake that I am dying to try.
However, one of the most intriguing recipes was this one - a wild rice salad with dried cranberries, toasted pecans, green beans, a maple-cider vinaigrette dressing, and sliced roast duck breast.
Fruit with meat?
Thinly sliced rare duck breast, barely seared in a hot pan?
All these things I love - it just had to be made.
This is a very simple dish to make - after cooking the rice (I used a mixture of basmati, red carmargue and wild rice, which you can buy from Waitrose and is delicious), you stir it together with dried cranberries (soaked in hot water to plump them up), toasted pecans, blanched green beans, chopped parsley, and the dressing.
The dressing is what really makes the dish - it was a complete revelation for me. I eat wild rice a lot, in salads, but I have never added a dressing. This simple elixir of maple syrup, vinegar, mustard and oil lifted the combination of ingredients to a totally different level. It coated the rice, giving it a gorgeous silky feel in the mouth, and it also provided a sort of salty-sweet flavour that brought all the other ingredients together perfectly.
It's honestly so hard to describe the incredible deliciousness of this salad. If you're sceptical about all those ingredients together, don't be. The nuttiness of the pecans and the wild rice is a perfect match for the sweet cranberries and gamey duck breast, and then you have the freshness of green beans and parsley and the tang of mustard to balance everything.
I can't wait to make this again. I could probably eat it every day for the rest of my life.
In which case, I might have to change my 'desert island' meat to duck.
Wild rice, toasted pecan and cranberry salad with rare duck breast (serves 4):
(Barely adapted from 'Roast Figs, Sugar Snow' by Diana Henry)
- 50g dried cranberries
- 30g pecans
- 250g mixed wild and basmati/brown rice
- 500ml chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- 3 large or 4 medium duck breasts, skin on
- 200g green beans, trimmed and halved
- 3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- For the dressing:
- 1/2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Cover the cranberries with boiling water and leave to plump up for 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C. Toast the pecans in a dry frying pan, then let them cool before crumbling them roughly.
Put the rice in a pan and pour over the chicken stock. Put on a lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for around 25 minutes, by which point the rice should have absorbed all the stock and be cooked but still with a slight bite (different rice mixed vary, so follow the packet instructions with regard to timings). Leave the lid on to keep it warm.
Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Season the duck breasts, then get a frying pan really hot and sear them, skin-side down first, in the pan until golden brown. Once browned, put them in an ovenproof dish and place in the oven for 5 minutes (this will give you rare meat - if you like it a bit more well done, allow 7-8 minutes). Remove, cover with foil and rest for 5 minutes.
Cook the beans in boiling water until just tender, then drain. Put the rice in a large mixing bowl and add the beans, cranberries, pecans, parsley, and the dressing. Toss it all together well and check the seasoning. Divide between four plates or bowls.
Slice the duck breasts thinly and arrange over the salad. Garnish with a little extra parsley and toasted pecans.
|Clockwise from top left: bainhan ka bharta on the left, haraa masala chicken in the centre; Maunika preparing the bengali bhapa doi; the bengali bhapa doi; candles to celebrate the Festival of Lights.|
My experiences of Indian cuisine haven't been anything mind-blowing, nor anything remotely approaching authentic. While I do enjoy a nice Tandoori chicken in our local curry house in Yorkshire, and while I did have a great experience at Anokaa in Salisbury when I was there for a weekend (including a wonderful duck and apricot curry and a delicious scallop starter), I'm pretty sure I have never sampled anything that a real Indian would recognise.
Enter Maunika Gowardhan (of the well-known blog Cook in a Curry) and her delicious home cooking. She is influenced by recipes passed down through her family, and cooks dishes from all over India (a country whose diverse cuisines I'm sure it's almost sacrilegious to lump together under the label "Indian"), putting her own unique spin on such recipes. I was told she had been frenetically cooking all day in order to bring her menu to us, and this soon became clear when I saw said menu: nine separate dishes, not including the raita and chapatis, all totally different, all equally enticing. Tilda's rice was at the heart of two of the recipes, to demonstrate its versatility in different kinds of cooking.
Over dinner I was told about what makes Tilda so special: not only is it 100% basmati rice (other brands often label themselves basmati but actually contain a small percentage of other grains), it undergoes a stringent quality control process to ensure there are no broken grains. Broken grains apparently interfere with the cooking process, releasing undesirable starch and resulting in overly sticky and stodgy rice. They use a special machine to filter them out. Who'd have thought so much effort could go into something as simple as a pack of rice? I was also informed that Tilda produce 17 different flavours of their microwaveable rice sachets, including butternut squash; sweet chilli and lime; lemon; coconut, and lime and coriander. I had absolutely no idea and am now really keen to sample them all, particularly coconut. I tend to cook my rice from scratch, but sometimes I reckon it'd be nice to have a microwaveable pack to hand, especially in such enticing flavours.
Back to the menu. First (to accompany an intensely alcoholic orange and cardamom martini that I only permitted myself half of in order to avoid being too catatonic to eat), we had deep fried sundried tomato and mozzarella rice balls. These were like the fantastic Sicilian arancini that are just starting to become popular over here - cooked rice wrapped around a filling (usually meat or cheese) in little balls then coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. Tilda's microwaveable sachets of basmati rice include a sundried tomato flavour, ideal for recipes with an Italian twist like this one. However, Maunika added her own Indian twist by serving them with a delicious fresh mint dipping sauce. The combination of crunchy breadcrumbs, soft rice and a gooey piece of mozzarella in the centre was utterly amazing. I could have happily eaten a plateful of those for dinner and nothing else.
Next we had paneer haraa tikka, squares of Indian cheese (rather like halloumi in texture, but less salty) marinated in green herbs, garlic and chillies then grilled. The real star of this dish, though, was a wonderful pineapple and black pepper chutney. It was bursting with zesty, pineapple flavour, but intesely sweet yet sharp at the same time. Maunika had apparently made it at home over a month ago. Again, I could have eaten just that, by the spoonful. It worked really well with the creamy cheese. This is now high on my 'to make' list. I rarely cook with pineapple but I keep meaning to experiment more; it has a wonderful caramelly depth of flavour when cooked.
Next we were invited to help ourselves to an absolute banquet of delights. First, haraa masala chicken, a green stew of chicken meat, caramelised onions, fresh mint and coriander. The chicken was really tender and flavoursome, with a lovely freshness from the sauce - quite unlike your usual flourescent yellow takeaway curries with their glutinous, oily sauces. There was also lamb yakhni pulao, a sort of pilaff of Tilda basmati rice, garlic and ground spices, cooked in lamb stock and butter and containing succulent chunks of lamb (Maunika had actually made the lamb stock herself from lamb bones earlier, which strikes me as incredible attention to detail, and may have been the reason the dish was so delicious). This was really lovely, with warm spicy notes and a real depth of flavour in the rice from the stock.
There was also a Keralan fish curry (see below), which I think was the favourite dish of the evening. Maunika pan-fried fillets of sea bass and served them in a pale yellow coconut curry flavoured with fresh curry leaves, ginger and lemon juice. The sauce was just incredible; it had a really pronounced coconutty flavour, with a slight sweetness that accompanied the delicate seabass really well, but with an underlying herbal note that prevented it being overwhelmingly sweet and creamy.
We also had bainhan ka bharta, a dish of charred aubergines cooked in spices and fresh ginger. This definitely had a kick to it, but you could still detect the unmistakeable deep flavour of roasted aubergine. It was wonderful accompanied with Maunika's roasted cumin and pomegranate raita, which took the edge off the spices a little.
After seconds of such wonderful fare, I was seriously doubting my capacity for dessert. However, I only got to sample one of the two desserts because I had to dash off to catch the last train home from London (damn you, First Capital Connect, for depriving me of sweet sustenance). I missed out on coconut, ginger and basmati rice pancakes; ginger rice pancakes fried in butter and topped with grilled pineapple and maple syrup. You only have to read that sentence to feel my pain at not being able to taste such an incredible-sounding combination of ingredients. Genuinely gutted.
However, I did at least get to sample bengali bhapa doi, which was a taste sensation and surprised me rather a lot. It's like a panna cotta, except made of chilled strained yoghurt that has thickened and gone rather crumbly, a bit like a baked ricotta cheesecake. This was flavoured with cardamom, and served with a truly wonderful mango coulis. Seeing as I hate yoghurt, I was amazed to find myself eating not only mine but one of the other guests' too (imagine how that sentence would read if I had forgotten the apostrophe). It didn't taste like yoghurt; it still had a pleasant tang, but it lacked the astringent sourness that I hate about yoghurt, as well as the creamy texture. This was more solid and crumbly, and it went really well with the vibrant, nectar-like coulis.
I was astounded by how completely different all of Maunika's dishes were to anything I've ever seen on a curry house menu. The evening fully confirmed my suspicions that there is more to Indian food than Tandoori chicken and naan bread. I was also impressed by how light the dishes were; I'd been expecting to waddle home nursing a small baby of coconut cream, dough and rice in my stomach. As it is, I did pretty much waddle home and I was very full, but not in an unpleasant way, and I had eaten rather a lot. Everything tasted fresh rather than overpowering; there were no greasy, cloying sauces or mounds of heavy rice; just bright, vibrant flavours.
I had a really lovely evening, and not just because of the food. It was so nice to meet lots of other food bloggers, many of whom were highly knowledgeable about Asian food and definitely taught me a few things over dinner. Many thanks to Tilda and Wild Card for inviting me, to Luiz for allowing everyone to invade his (beautiful, Aga-sporting and envy-inducing) kitchen, and to Maunika for some truly fabulous food.
If you'd like to try the delicious lamb yakhni pulao recipe, scroll down...
Yakhni Lamb Pulao:
For the stock and meat:
600g shoulder of lamb on the bone cut in medium sized pieces
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
5 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
Enough water to cover all the meat (about a litre)
For the pulao:
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1 inch cinnamon stick broken in half
5 green cardamom pods
2 medium onions thinly sliced
1 heaped tbsp ginger paste
2 heaped tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp nutmeg powder
350g Tilda Pure Basmati Rice
600ml lamb stock
Salt to taste
Tie up the onion and all the whole spices in muslin securing with a string. Cook it with the meat and water in a stock pot over a hob: bring to the boil and simmer for an hour and 15 minutes. The stock, along with the meat and spices, can be left in the pot overnight which will enhance the flavours.
The following day discard the muslin with its contents, separate the meat from the stock and set aside.
Prepare the rice by soaking for at least 30 minutes and rinsing in a sieve until the water runs clear.
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon and cardamom pods. Fry them for a minute as they sizzle and release their flavours in the oil. Add the sliced onions. Fry the onions on a medium heat till they soften and are a light golden brown.
Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook through for a couple of minutes. Now add the nutmeg powder stirring well for a few seconds making sure the powder does not burn.
Mix in the cooked lamb and the rice. Season with salt and stir, add the stock and mix well. Cover and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes or so, until the rice is completely cooked. Turn the heat off and garnish with fresh coriander. Serve warm with mint raita.
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.
Maybe it's the result of several adolescent years spent keeping fish in a tank, but I always find it slightly mind-boggling that some fish can grow so enormous. Until a few years ago I was under the impression that tuna were tiny, and that you needed several of them, minced up, to fill a can. I'm not sure why; I suppose I identified them with the diminutive goldfish that I'd watch floating placidly around my aquarium every night. It wasn't until I read an article in the paper about a bluefin fish going on sale for some crazy price in Japan, complete with photo of the monstrous aquatic specimen, larger than the man who was attempting to fillet it, that I realised my mistake. The same goes for salmon - often presented in fillet or smoked form, you're rarely faced with a whole specimen and are lulled into a vague sense of thinking that a whole salmon is roughly the size of one of its fillets, as would be the case for something like sea bass. I once got a whole salmon from the fishmonger for a Boxing Day dinner; it had to go in the oven diagonally and even then barely fit on a baking sheet.
So it is with cod. You often buy or are served cod in a thick steak, but it's hard to gauge from this just how big the fish it came from was. When I first saw cod cheeks on a menu, I raised an eyebrow. Surely there's not enough meat on a cod head to get anything worth cooking? How very wrong I was, as I found out last week when I bought a bag of cod cheeks from the fishmonger at the market. I can never resist an unusual ingredient, and after my success with pigs' cheeks I am eager to experiment with the facial flesh of mammals and fish, morbid as it may sound. Not only is there enough meat, but in some cases cod cheeks are pretty sizeable, about as big as a decent scallop. They look a little bit like scallops, too - thick, white medallions of flesh, ideal for sizzling in a very hot pan until caramelised on the outside yet sweet and juicy in the centre. The beauty of them is that they have no bones, so can be used in things like fishcakes without having to faff around picking the meat.
I didn't want to mask their flavour and texture by putting them in a fishcake, though. Instead I thought I'd serve them like scallops, with some sort of accompaniment to bulk them up a bit and provide complementary flavours. I toyed with the idea of braising some peas, lentils and bacon and serving the cod cheeks on top, and I intend to try that another time. However, my mind initially jumped to paella, with the flavours of saffron, tomatoes, paprika, peas and herbs. I'm not sure why; probably because white fish with tomatoes and paprika (often in the form of chorizo) is a great combination. I thought the flavoursome rice would be perfect with the cod cheeks; good enough to eat on its own, but even better when coupled with the sweet fish. I made a sort-of paella (I wouldn't go so far as to call it an actual paella, but it has similar flavours) with a base of sautéed carrot, celery, onion, garlic and chopped baby plum tomatoes, to which I added paella rice, some home-made fish stock from the freezer, paprika, saffron, peas, and a scattering of chopped dill and lemon thyme.
I fried the cod cheeks in a little olive oil as I would scallops, then served them atop the rice. I was surprised by their sheer deliciousness; they have that sweet juiciness that you only seem to get from cod, and although their flesh is a little more chewy, it means much more flavour than you'd get from a fillet. I could probably eat a plateful on their own - apparently a good way to serve them is to dip them in batter and deep fry them, a bit like scampi, which sounds sublime. The rice here is a good background to the fish, flavoursome but not too overpowering, and gives the dish a bit more substance. Some prawns or squid stirred into the rice would be nice, too. I am glad I've discovered this unusual ingredient, and can't believe it's not more popular - the low price of cod cheeks is indicative that they haven't gone trendy yet, for which I am very thankful.
I am a little unsure, despite their goodness, of the ethical issues regarding cod cheeks - cod has a lot of sustainability problems. I am wondering if it's good to eat the cheeks because they're a by-product of the cod process, and would be going in the bin if we didn't eat them (there is still a demand for cod, like it or not, and I suppose we may as well make the most of the whole fish if we're going to be catching it)...or if I should stop buying them and decrease demand for this endangered fish. Any ideas?
Spanish rice with cod cheeks (serves 2):
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Half an onion, finely chopped
- A carrot, finely chopped
- A stick of celery, finely chopped
- Two handfuls of baby plum tomatoes, finely chopped
- A generous pinch of saffron
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 150g paella rice
- About 500ml hot fish stock
- A generous handful of frozen or fresh peas
- Herbs, to finish (I used dill and lemon thyme, but parsley would be good too)
- 300g cod cheeks
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon wedges, to serve
Heat a little oil in a non-stick saucepan and saute the garlic, onion, carrot, tomatoes and celery until softened. Add the saffron, paprika and paella rice and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring.
Pour in the fish stock, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has been mostly absorbed (add a little more boiling water if you think it looks too dry near the end) - don't stir like a risotto, just leave it to bubble. Towards the end, add the peas and cook for 5 minutes or so, then stir in the herbs once the rice is fully cooked. Taste to check the seasoning - you might want more paprika or salt.
Heat a little more oil in a frying pan until hot. Season the cod cheeks with salt and pepper, then fry for a couple of minutes on each side - they should be nicely caramelised and soft in the middle.
Serve the cod cheeks on top of the rice, with lemon to squeeze over.
Plus, it feels incredibly healthy. Eating that amount of vegetables can't not be good for you, and the vibrant colours are an instant tonic for the mood as well. Even better - it's all made in one pot, so hardly any washing up. What's not to like?