I go through phases with noodle dishes. For a long time it was pad Thai, after I learned the tricks for making it properly (cook the noodles in the sauce, not separately) at a cookery school in Chiang Mai. Then I transitioned to the even easier pad see ew, a deeply-flavoured tangle of thick rice noodles in a silky oyster and soy sauce with scrambled egg and vegetables – perfect once I discovered that ‘having a job’ and ‘spending three hours making a meal each night’ are not always compatible. My ‘diet food’ is a wholesome bowl of Vietnamese chicken pho, sipped soothingly at the end of a strenuous workout, although since I gave up meat I’ve struggled to replace the deep flavour of chicken broth. Then there is tom kha, Thai coconut broth, which always hits the spot no matter what mood you’re in, and to which I add a big handful of rice noodles, though it’s not entirely authentic. When I could afford crab (i.e. before I moved to Denmark), my noodle fix of choice was a bowl of shimmering glass noodles dressed with galangal, yuzu, soy and lime, into which I’d stir fresh crab meat, edamame beans and chunks of pomelo.Read More
Sometimes people ask me why I love to travel. By ‘people’ I mean my mother, and by ‘sometimes’ I mean while I’m in the process of stuffing my 65 litre backpack into the freezer so all the Burmese bedbugs it contains can shuffle off this mortal coil amidst tubs of ice cream and frozen peas, or while I’m approaching my eleventh hour sleeping under a foil blanket on the floor of Stansted Airport waiting to be allowed to leave because a kind gentleman on my flight home mentioned that he’d put a bomb in the hold of the aircraft and apparently the police have to look into things like this, and it takes rather a lot of time. Time that trickles onwards in slow, sluggish gulps as you try and make the gratification from a crustless white bread sandwich endure for the entire night, and become far better acquainted with the minutiae of a Ryanair boarding gate than you ever thought possible, or desirable.Read More
Summer is a time when it almost seems a shame to use dried fruit in cooking, since the fresh variety is so bountiful. The rich, treacly taste and sticky texture of dried fruit has its place, but for me that place is in a comforting winter stew or tagine, or to pep up an autumnal salad of grains, nuts and perhaps a crumbling of soft cheese. Right now I’d much rather enjoy the crisp, sweet flesh and gentle bloom of an early-season Victoria plum, the voluptuous curve of a fresh fig or the mouth-puckering tang of a sun-ripened berry or currant than the caramelised, winey flavours of their dried counterparts.Read More
I tend to avoid any social event that proudly announces it will include a barbecue. It’s a common phobia for the food snob, I reckon: the communal barbecue organised and presided over by people for whom the ethical sourcing of meat is not an issue, for whom a mass-produced supermarket bap does not induce a shudder of disgust, for whom cheese comes in a square plastic wrapper. ‘Barbecue’ is often sadly synonymous with ‘a load of pre-prepared low quality meat items from the supermarket that we will prod and poke while pretending to be cavemen and leave raw in the centre and carcinogenic on the outside’. I just can’t bring myself to participate in that sort of occasion. What a waste of an opportunity, when the lighting of coals offers such potential for an enticing variety of foodstuffs.Read More
I learned to make Thai soups on a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and couldn’t quite believe how little effort went into something so vibrant, flavoursome and punchy. The creation of a prawn tom yum took under five minutes, and simply involved throwing some ingredients into a wok of simmering water. The resulting broth was heady, sinus-clearing and fresh, and I resolved to make these simple soups a staple in my kitchen upon my return. Now there is something vaguely ritualistic about their creation, as I chop through galangal, lemongrass and chillies with the small cleaver I bought in a Thai market, picking kaffir lime leaves off the plant in my conservatory and pouring rich, zesty coconut broth into deep bowls lined with a tangle of soft rice noodles.Read More
I’ve become a bit obsessed with pumpkins since the start of autumn. Their golden flesh is so versatile that I’ve managed to incorporate it into nearly every recipe I’ve cooked over the last few months, from Thai coconut soups to pesto pasta, macaroni cheese to breakfast scones. I love their dense, almost fudge-like texture, and the way they roast into warming caramelized perfection in no time at all. Their slight sweetness pairs well with so many ingredients, particularly salty things like bacon and cheese, although it is also fabulous with sturdy winter herbs and a variety of spices, piquant smoked paprika being one of the best.Read More
Sometimes, you read a menu description that sends you into paroxysms of longing and desire, and has you practically gaping at the waitress as you urge her, wide-eyed, to come over and take your order instantly so that the kitchen can quicken the transition of your food from plate to mouth. These moments should be cherished, as they help to prevent that cursed state, the bane of many a food-lover’s life: menu indecision. It’s rare that I hand my menu over to the waitress feeling wholly confident that I’ve made the right choice; anything that can facilitate this state of total wellbeing is truly a blessing.Read More
Cauliflower is such an underrated vegetable. So frequently found unfairly buried beneath a smothering blanket of cheese sauce, this tragic brassica is often maligned for being watery, mushy and grey. We hide it away under a covering of fat as if we’re embarrassed by it, offering our apologies by way of a hefty dose of mitigating cheese. Its vibrant cousin, broccoli, suffers no such fate. Perhaps the anaemic whiteness of the cauliflower does it a disservice: after all, these days we are bullied by the health police into thinking ill of most white foods, be it sugar, your supermarket sliced loaf or refined rice.Read More
Easter and Christmas are very meaty holidays, but while the nut roast seems a standard vegetarian option during the winter, there isn’t really a general consensus on what vegetarians should tuck into while everyone else is enjoying their roast lamb. This delicious savoury cobbler should satisfy the non-carnivores around the table. It’s bursting with the colours and flavours of the Mediterranean, perfect for welcoming spring: lovely fresh tomatoes and peppers bake until tender under a crust of goat’s cheese scones, fragrant with lemon thyme, rich with parmesan and topped with golden pine nuts. It’s easy to make and provides a hearty, all-in-one main course, deliciously rich and sweet, with those lovely tangy scones to soak it all up. Find my full post and recipe on the AO Life blog!
When I was a lot younger, I remember stumbling upon a very curious utensil in my family's kitchen. This little knife had a wooden handle like any other, but its blade was serrated on both sides and, bizarrely, curved sharply to one side. My mum explained that it was a grapefruit knife, designed to enable the scooping out of grapefruit flesh from the skin so you could enjoy it for breakfast. She must have shown me how to use it, because I distinctly remember enjoying, on several occasions, the ritual of slicing a grapefruit into two heavy halves, running that special knife in a circular motion around the pink flesh, using a small paring knife to cut in between the membranes, bisecting the fruit like the spokes of a wheel, and finally savouring the fruit of my labours with a teaspoon, scooping each tiny segment out of the skin and popping it into my mouth.Read More
There may not be much that is certain in life, but here are three things that are certain in the world of cooking:
- You will always happen to be wearing a white shirt when preparing tomatoes, pomegranates or beetroot.
- You will never be able to brown meatballs ‘evenly on all sides’, because they are in fact spherical and therefore do not have sides.
- You will never, ever, find a recipe that calls for an entire red cabbage.
The other night, I got back to York after an exhausting couple of weeks down south. I'd spent the afternoon sleeping haphazardly on the train, groggy and disgruntled after a fortnight of very little sleep. I came home, dazedly unpacked my bag, and then was forced by increasingly prominent hunger pangs to consider the somewhat urgent question of dinner. All I wanted to do was lie like a starfish on my bed and sigh in a plaintive and exhausted fashion, preferably while a willing minion worked busily downstairs to prepare me a delicious feast that would then be spoon-fed into my recumbent mouth. Unfortunately, no such minion materialised and I was forced to de-starfish myself and actually figure out how I was going to sustain myself gastronomically.Read More
Cambodian cuisine is often referred to as being “less sophisticated” than its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours, which seems to me a highly unfair accusation. For me, Cambodian food is just as exciting as Thai or Vietnamese, particularly its curries. These are often based on a spice paste called kroeung, a heady mixture of galangal, turmeric, garlic, lemongrass, lime leaves and chilli, given a savoury kick by fermented shrimp paste. To this is added coconut milk, more lime leaves and a little sugar, resulting in the most delicious sweet-sour-salty-coconutty curry sauce, fragrant with lime and lemongrass, hot with chilli and deeply savoury from fish sauce and shrimp paste. For a delicious introduction to the cuisine, try out this stunning vegetarian curry recipe - my latest post on the Appliances Online lifestyle blog. For the recipe, and a little bit more about Cambodian food, click here!
Have you ever discovered an amazing recipe a bit by accident? Say, found yourself with random ingredients to use up and located a recipe in one of your cookbooks that you wouldn't normally make but since you have all the ingredients you may as well? Or, at a loss for culinary inspiration, simply turned to a random page in said cookbook and picked something you wouldn't normally try, only to find it a wonderful addition to your repertoire? Or decided to give something a go because it sounded weird and used an odd combination of ingredients, and you were curious to know how it would taste?
This recipe came about a bit like that. One night, I was cooking amok (a Cambodian coconut-based fish curry steamed in banana leaves - it's insanely delicious) for a friend. Feeling guilty over a fresh pineapple languishing in the fridge and starting to turn a little brown in places, and sure that I could turn it into some kind of side dish to accompany the fish, I flicked through one of my Vietnamese recipe books, certain I had seen a recipe for a stir-fried pineapple dish.
Now, I love pretty much all fruit-in-savoury-dishes combinations, but I think pineapple has to be a particular favourite. In Vietnam, one of the absolute highlights of my travels was a dish of stir-fried seafood with onions, tomatoes and pineapple. It had a delicious sweet-sour flavour and the seafood was fresh, tender, sweet and succulent. Pineapple adds wonderful flavour to south-east Asian dishes, since they're often quite sour and spicy; the sweetness and caramel notes of fresh pineapple add a delicious dimension to the mix, particularly if there's coconut in the sauce - like a piña colada, only savoury and chewable.
This recipe is simple but so much more delicious and rewarding than you would expect for its simplicity. You stir-fry chopped ginger, garlic and chilli in a hot pan. This alone is going to make it good - nothing like that beautiful triumvirate of flavour to get a dish going. You then add fresh pineapple, keeping the heat high so it starts to caramelise on the outside. The colours are beautiful and golden, the fruit streaked with dark toffee colour, the fiery red of the chilli dotted throughout.
Then, the best bit. You pour on a dark and potent mixture of fish sauce, soy sauce, and dark brown sugar. This sizzles and bubbles in treacly waves, coating the pineapple and turning it a dark bronze, the smell of salt and toffee wafting up from the searing pan. As you continue to stir the sauce thickens and caramelises. You then add a squeeze of lime juice, to brighten everything up.
You can keep it simple and serve it just like this, as a side dish, sprinkled with toasted peanuts. The deep savoury flavour of the nuts contrasts beautifully with the sweet, sticky, slightly sour, salty pineapple. I like to stir in some spinach just as the sauce has thickened, where it wilts in the pan and is coated with the sauce. It adds fresh green colour, another texture, and also one more of your five a day - surely a plus.
Since I discovered this recipe a few weeks ago, I've made it at least ten times. This is a clear indication of its wonderfulness, because I rarely cook the same thing twice. But there's something about this dish I just can't get enough of. The flavours are incredible - the glaze on the outside of the pineapple is salty and slightly sour in your mouth, but when you bite into the pineapple it releases wonderfully sticky, toffee-scented juice. The peanuts are rich, toasty and nutty, providing crunch. There's heat from the chilli and ginger, just enough to make your lips tingle.
At the end, I like to scatter over some herbs. Mint and coriander work well, as does fresh basil, but my new love of late is sweet basil. I found this in an Asian grocer, and was not quite prepared for what would happen when I opened the packet and took a sniff.
I didn't think I'd tried sweet basil before. It turns out, I basically lived off the stuff when travelling around Vietnam. It's common when eating in a Vietnamese restaurant to be presented with a big plate of fresh herbs, water droplets clinging to the leaves, to add to your meal or just munch on as they are. Sweet basil leaves - darker green and more pointed than regular basil, with a purple tinge - were a staple. They have a very strong, assertive flavour, quite unlike Italian basil; it's hard to describe, but it's almost minty, somehow, with a hint of aniseed. One sniff of that bunch of leaves and I was back in Vietnam.
It's amazing how smell, more than any other sense, I think, has such a profound and involuntary effect on memory. There have been a few occasions in my life where I've been unexpectedly jolted back to a certain event or period of time, all through the sniff of a certain aroma. It sometimes leaves me reeling, particularly if the memory is an especially emotional one (and aren't they all, in a way?). This was no exception. I've been cooking with the sweet basil for days now, but the effect hasn't lessened in any way. Its scent is inextricably tied up with images, emotions, ideas from far away in my head. I actually went to the fridge and just stood there, inhaling the packet. A little weird, perhaps, but I am still pining for Vietnam and this is the closest I can get. A bunch of leaves. Strange how it's the small things.
But let's put aside the nostalgic meanderings of my mind. Sweet basil is also very good on this pineapple dish.
I would really urge you to try this soon. It's excellent as a side dish with various Asian recipes - it was amazing with the amok - but would be good with any kind of Asian-spiced fish dish, or with chicken or pork. Although it's quite assertive in its flavours, its sweetness provides a fresh, pleasant contrast to anything spicy, creamy or meaty. I also think it would be very good with cubed firm tofu, fried in a hot pan until golden and slightly crispy around the edges, and served over rice or noodles. Or with seared spicy lemongrass prawns.
One of my favourite ways to eat this, though, is simply poured into a big bowl of cooked rice noodles, where the juices coat the slippery strands, their comforting blandness a welcome foil to the hot, sweet, sour, sharp, salty flavours of the caramelised fruit and wilted spinach. I scatter over the toasted peanuts, squeeze over some lime, and pile shredded sweet basil over the top. I sit down with this big bowlful, some wooden chopsticks that I bought in Vietnam, and am a little bit in love.
Chilli and ginger stir-fried pineapple (serves 1 as a lunch with rice/noodles; 2 as a side dish):
- 1 clove garlic
- Half a red chilli (or more, depending how spicy you like your food)
- 20g fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp rapeseed or groundnut oil
- Half a medium pineapple
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark brown sugar or palm sugar
- A large handful spinach or baby spinach
- 2 tbsp peanuts, toasted in a dry pan and roughly chopped
- The juice of half a lime
- A few leaves of Thai/sweet basil (or normal basil if you can't find it), shredded, to serve
Finely chop the garlic, chilli and ginger. Remove the skin and woody core from the pineapple and chop into small chunks. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan or wok and fry the ginger, garlic and chilli over a medium-high heat until starting to colour. Add the pineapple and cook until starting to caramelise.
Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl or jug, then tip into the pan - it should sizzle and bubble. Stir to coat the pineapple in the mixture, then cook for a minute or so until everything has turned dark and sticky. Add the spinach and cook for a minute or so until wilted.
Squeeze over the lime juice and stir well, then serve garnished with the toasted peanuts and shredded basil.
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 am heartily convinced that people who claim not to like aubergines have only ever experienced them in something like badly-cooked ratatouille or curry. If you don't treat a noble aubergine properly in such a preparation, it will be disgusting. It will be spongy and tough in the centre and slimy around the outside, watery and generally vile. An aubergine is not really a boiling vegetable. Stewing it in liquid will not do it any favours. The best way to treat an aubergine is to grill or bake it until its flesh turns from springy and spongy to molten, smoky and silky. Its skin will wrinkle and crisp, while its inside turns deliciously moist, full of rich, earthy flavour.
The only problem with this is that it takes a while. It's no real effort, but you do have to roast the aubergines for a good length of time to get the proper amount of molten-ness and smoky flavour. You then have to peel off the skin, and mash the flesh with your choice of seasoning to really bring out the best in it. Classic additions are garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs - add these and you've got something approaching the middle Eastern dip, baba ganoush; add tahini as well, and you have moutabal.
Among the goodies I was recently sent to try by Belazu, producers of mediterranean ingredients and olives, is roasted aubergine paste. This is rather like an aubergine tapenade. It concentrates all that delicious smoky aubergine flavour into a spreadable condiment that can be used straight from the jar, rather than requiring faffing around with aubergines and seasoning. It's not the prettiest thing ever, being a sort of murky grey cement colour, but this shouldn't put you off, because it packs a deep punch of aubergine flavour.
The paste has a slight smoky bitterness, so is great combined with sweet or tart ingredients. I've used it to make a sort of mediterranean bruschetta, spreading the paste over toasted sourdough (homemade, of course), then topping it with roasted tomatoes. As with aubergines, roasting tomatoes concentrates all their delicious flavour. It also turns them slightly sweet and gooey, a perfect complement to the deep, earthy flavours of the aubergine paste. I added torn mozzarella for a light, fresh flavour to balance everything else, then a scattering of pomegranate seeds. Pomegranate seeds are more than just a pretty garnish (although I admit, I do throw them on just about anything to make it look a bit sexy): their sharp burst of sweetness works really well with aubergine. Finally, a few leaves of coriander, both for colour and for their slight citrus note.
This is a lovely light lunch or dinner, full of intense, bold flavours. It's also beautifully colourful, which is exactly what we need at this time of year. Make sure you get good bread and good mozzarella (the buffalo stuff in a pot rather than a bag, preferably), and you can't really go wrong.
Try it out on self-confessed aubergine haters. I reckon they just might love it.
Aubergine bruschetta with roasted tomatoes, mozzarella and pomegranate (serves 2):
- 20 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 slices sourdough bread
- 1 jar Belazu aubergine paste
- 16 mozzarella pearls (or a ball of mozzarella, torn into chunks)
- Seeds from half a pomegranate
- Coriander, to garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the tomatoes in a small oven dish and toss with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast for around 20 minutes, until charred in places and starting to burst. Remove and set aside.
Toast the sourdough slices and divide between two plates. Spread the bread with the aubergine paste, then scatter over the tomatoes, mozzarella and pomegranate seeds. Garnish with some sprigs of coriander.
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that autumn is the best time of year to be cooking. While I love the colourful bounty of summer, particularly gluts of downy apricots and bouncy red berries, autumn brings with it wonders of equal beauty, along with another crucial ingredient: weather.
You see, along with the mists and chill days of autumn comes that magical thing: an excuse to eat comfort food. Suddenly we can justify wanting nothing more than to curl up with a bowl of hearty stew and a pile of pillowy mashed potato. How lucky that Mother Nature chooses this time of the year to offer us dark, rich game; golden, robust root vegetables; glossy burnished nuts; curled, crunchy, springy greens; mellow, juicy, russet-skinned orchard fruits. While perhaps not as obviously glowing and vibrant as the produce of high summer, to me autumn ingredients have a dark, subtle and muted magic of their own.
In order to celebrate British autumn produce, I was asked by Floral & Hardy garden designers to come up with a three-course autumn feast, to demonstrate the range of ingredients that can be grown in British gardens, making the most of our gardens and also saving a bit of money in the supermarket. Given my aforementioned love of the culinary potential of this season, I of course said yes, and had great fun coming up with three lovely autumnal recipes for you, the first of which is this starter - stay tuned for the main course and dessert over the next week or so.
You probably don't need to be told that growing your own fruit and veg is a great thing to do. I am looking forward to turning the patch of wilderness that is the garden of my new house into a treasure trove of home-grown delights at some point; I love the romanticism that comes with being able to take your dinner from its natural habitat to the kitchen by walking a matter of metres, saving money and food miles. Among the wealth of produce available to be grown by the home gardener are courgettes, tomatoes, peppers, beetroot, blackberries, beans and mushrooms - all beautiful autumn ingredients. I'm no expert on home-grown, though, so if you're keen to get started I would recommend the wonderful Tender cookbooks by Nigel Slater, who talks about growing your own from a cook's point of view. Floral & Hardy also have a gardening blog for the keen (or amateur!) gardener.
This recipe, a perfect autumnal starter, combines several of my favourite seasonal staples.
Firstly, we have squash. Perhaps the most quintessential autumn vegetable, owing to its presence on our doorsteps hollowed out with an evil grimace and a candle inside, there are very few uses to which squash cannot be put in the kitchen (but don't try cooking with those pumpkins the supermarkets sell for Halloween, which are watery and tasteless). It generally finds its way into my lunchbox every day alongside couscous and feta cheese, but can form a sturdy basis for substantial cold-weather salads, combined with pulses like lentils, pearl barley, or bulgur wheat. It's also excellent in risotto. Owing to its sweetness, squash needs to be paired with salty flavours - strong cheeses are ideal, or bacon. It also works surprisingly well with other sweet things, like dried fruit and chestnuts, which somehow make it seem less sweet in comparison.
While the butternut squash is ubiquitous in markets and supermarkets, it's worth tracking down other varieties if you can - farmers' markets often have them. Crown Prince squash are lovely, with a delicate teal-coloured skin and a robust flesh, although they're often giant. I'm a big fan of the little squash that can be served as individual portions, as is the case here. They come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colours, and possess a knobbly, rustic charm that is lacking in the predictably super-smooth, tapered butternut. That's one of the reasons for growing your own, too - you can enjoy varieties you might otherwise struggle to track down.
Next up, Swiss chard. This is both a blessing and a curse to the magpie-like food shopper, a breed to which I am unashamed to state I belong. Whenever I spy bunches of glorious chard at a market or supermarket, I can never resist hoarding it. Those rainbow stems are just too beautiful. However, it then languishes in my fridge because I'm never entirely sure what to do with it - unlike squash, I have no knee-jerk recipes up my sleeve for chard (until now). The best guide is to treat the stems a little like celery, and the leaves like spinach. I once made a delicious Swiss chard and feta filo pastry pie, which combined the chard with salty feta, pine nuts, and plump raisins. The combination is delicious - the raisins go wonderfully well with chard, enhancing its natural sweetness and preventing its iron tang from cloying, while the nuts provide texture.
I adapted that combination here, for the stuffing of the squash. I sauteed the chard stalks along with some sliced red onion - another ingredient that seems very autumnal to me - and garlic. To this I added dried cranberries, soaked in boiling water until plump and juicy. I could have used raisins, but cranberries - though not grown over here - seem very British at this time of year, given our penchant for them on the Christmas table. The chard leaves went in too, to soften, and finally some chestnuts.
Chestnuts are an ingredient I only discovered a couple of years ago. I went through a phase of dutifully roasting my own in the oven, until I realised that life is too short and you can buy perfectly decent pre-cooked, pre-peeled vacuum packed ones that are fine for cooking (though if you just want to eat them on their own, I'd suggest buying a bag of raw ones and doing it yourself). I may also have had a few explode in the oven due to my sub-standard scoring of their skins - they make a thoroughly alarming cannon-like explosion sound; I wouldn't recommend it, for your own sanity.
Chestnuts, with their rich flavour and fudgy, crumbly texture, add a beautiful sweetness and interest to all sorts of autumn dishes. They're great with rich meat, like game, because of their sweet flavour. They're also good with other sweet ingredients, like squash. I added them to my chard mixture for texture and flavour, where they went extremely well with the sweet cranberries and the crunchy, earthy chard.
This is a really lovely starter dish for autumn. The sweet chard mixture is combined with gruyere cheese, spooned into a squash that has been hollowed out, seasoned and roasted until tender, then everything is baked in the oven with more gruyere cheese on top. You could use any cheese - blue cheese, goat's cheese or feta would all work well - but gruyere has a delicious strong, salty, rich flavour that is necessary to contrast with the sweet squash, cranberries and chestnuts. Each person ends up with a delightful little squash bowl encasing a delicious sweet-sour-savoury filling, with a moreish crust of salty, burnished gruyere cheese on top. It's pretty easy to make, can be assembled in advance, and is vegetarian (though gruyere probably isn't totally veggie, like a lot of cheeses, so you might want to check which cheese you use).
I really love the combination of flavours in this dish. It would be the kind of nauseating food-writer cliche that I hate to pronounce it 'autumn on a plate'...so instead I will call it 'autumn made better by putting cheese on top'.
Stuffed squash with swiss chard, cranberries, chestnuts and gruyere (serves 2 generously):
- 2 small squash - best if you can get round ones, but if not just use the rounded ends of butternut squash
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- A few sprigs lemon thyme (or normal thyme)
- 50g dried cranberries
- 80ml boiling water
- 2 bunches swiss chard
- 2 red onions
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 150g cooked chestnuts
- 60-80g gruyere cheese, grated (or more if you love cheese...and who doesn't?!)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cut the squash in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds, so you have four cup-shaped halves. Rub the squash inside and out with olive oil, then season well. Sprinkle over a few thyme leaves. Place in the oven and cook for around 30 minutes, hollow side up, until just tender.
Meanwhile, make the stuffing. Soak the cranberries in the boiling water. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan. Peel and thinly slice the red onions. Cook these over a gentle heat for a few minutes until starting to soften, then add the garlic cloves and cook for a few more minutes. Slice the chard stalks thinly and add to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until these are softening too, then add the cranberries, the cranberry soaking water, and the chard leaves.
Cover with a lid and cook for around 5 minutes, until everything is softening. Remove the lid and allow the water to evaporate away. Roughly chop the chestnuts and add to the pan, along with a generous amount of salt and pepper and a few thyme leaves. Taste and check the seasoning.
When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven. Stir half the gruyere into the chard mixture, then use this to stuff the squash. Sprinkle the remaining gruyere over the top of the chard in the squash. (If you have any chard mixture left over, just serve it alongside when the squash are done). Put these back in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.
Prunes are an unfairly overlooked ingredient. Perhaps this is because of their rather menacing appearance: prunes are dark, wrinkled and gnarled in comparison to their plump, sunny cousins - dried apricots. Apricots just look much more user friendly, with their fat, honey coloured flesh. They crop up in many more recipes and seem to be the 'go-to' dried fruit for a lot of cooks, perhaps after raisins or sultanas. I think prunes carry a lot of unfair associations with school dinners, health food, and elderly people. It's sometimes easy to forget that they are, in fact, just dried plums - nothing remotely ominous about that.
Prunes have a huge amount to offer, both raw and cooked. They have a gorgeous rich stickiness to them that, in common with dates, I think makes them just as satisfying as a dessert. They have a real complexity of flavour, with notes of berry, wine, sometimes even chocolate. They are hugely versatile, working equally well in both sweet and savoury dishes - lending a sweet squidgyness to a chocolate brownie or tart, for example, or a bite of fruitiness to a rich lamb tagine.
Prunes are also pretty good for the health-conscious. They count as one of your five-a-day, are full of vitamins, and are low-GI so fill you up for a long time. They can also be used to great effect in healthy (but not boring) recipes - I make a delicious chocolate brownie that replaces the butter with prune puree, making it a lot more justifiable to eat several in one go. I've fed them to people who never guessed they weren't ordinary brownies (but mostly I've saved them all for myself). I imagine you could try a similar trick with general chocolate cakes, or other dark cakes.
I was recently sent some California Prunes to try, and couldn't refuse given my love of dried fruit. 60% of the world's plum production occurs in California, where the environmental conditions produce fruit that ripens fully on the tree, resulting in a perfect sugar content and full flavour. The prunes are delicious; sweet, rich and the perfect moist, sticky consistency - I'm not a fan of those over-dried ones that resemble leather and have to be rehydrated before eating. These also came individually wrapped, which I kind of loved. They looked like sweeties...only substantially better for you! (Should you want some for yourself, they sell them in Holland & Barrett and Tesco.)
I was fascinated by one of the recipe suggestions that accompanied my sample: a salad of prunes, broad beans, watercress, feta and pecans. Given my love of unusual salad combinations and anything involving fruit (particularly with meat and/or cheese), I had to try it. I've only ever used prunes in savoury recipes involving quite rich meat before, never something light and vegetable-heavy, so I was intrigued.
This is a surprising salad. I wasn't sure it would work, and in the end I was rather astounded by how tasty it was. There's a simple dressing of wholegrain mustard, honey and white wine vinegar - but I didn't have any of the latter so used lime juice, which was great. Watercress, mange tout and broad beans are tossed in the dressing (the recipe uses raw mange tout, but I boiled mine briefly to take the bitter edge off), then some chopped prunes, chopped pecans and crumbled feta. That is it.
The result is a fantastic combination of textures: grainy broad beans, crunchy mange tout and pecans, soft feta and delightfully squidgy prune pieces. There's just the right balance of saltiness (from the feta), acidity (from the mustard and lime juice/vinegar), sweetness (from the prunes) and bitterness (from the watercress and mange tout). It's a really pretty salad, very nutritious, and very filling too. I'm looking forward to trying out more salad recipes with prunes in the future, maybe with some leftover roast chicken or lamb, and some pine nuts...
The original recipe is here, on the California Prunes website, along with a vast number of other tempting suggestions (I'm particularly excited by the prune, amaretti and citrus tarts, and the prune, pecan and celery stuffed chicken). My slightly altered version is below; adjust quantities if you wish - you might want lots more pecans, if you're a big fan, or more feta, if you like salty food, et cetera.
If you're sceptical, I promise you this salad is really delicious. If you can't bear the idea of a vegetarian meal, I reckon it would make a great side dish to chicken or lamb.
Eat, enjoy, and give the poor prune a chance!
Prune, broad bean, feta, watercress and pecan salad (serves 1, easily multiplied):
- 100g frozen broad beans
- 40g mange tout, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 tbsp lime juice (bottled or fresh) - or use lemon juice or white wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Two big handfuls of spinach, watercress and rocket salad
- 15g pecan nuts, chopped (toast them first if you like for extra flavour)
- 50g feta cheese, crumbled
- 6 prunes, quartered
Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the broad beans and cook for 5 minutes. One minute before the end, add the mange tout. When tender, drain well and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the honey, mustard and lime juice with some salt and pepper. Add the broad beans and mange tout and the salad, and toss together. Add the pecans, feta and prunes and toss together before piling onto a plate. Serve immediately.
In a bid to find a gluten-free alternative to all my favourite grainy lunchtime carbohydrates (couscous, bulgur wheat, pearl barley), I have fallen in love with buckwheat. Buckwheat, although it might look, cook and taste like your ordinary gluten-filled grain (and, of course, it has 'wheat' in its title) is actually a seed. In fact, it is related to rhubarb. It's not a grain and therefore is totally gluten free. You can buy it as flour, which is perhaps more commonly known - it's what the French use to make those gorgeous dark, nutty crêpes that they fill with savoury stuffings. This is ideal for a spot of gluten-free baking, although it has quite a strong flavour so is usually best 'diluted' with another more neutral gluten-free flour.
You can also buy it as groats, however, which is where it really comes into its own.
These are a funny little convex triangle shape, looking at first glance a bit like giant, angular couscous granules. They can be cooked in the same way as rice - boiled in twice their volume of water or stock - to result in creamy, nutty pellets of deliciousness. They have a similar sort of chewy texture to pearl barley, but not as dense. In fact, the closest similarity is probably with cooked risotto rice - tender and starchy, but still with a little bite. You can use them to make a risotto, and you can even cook them in water and milk to make gluten-free porridge. Incidentally, they are also packed with protein and other nutrients, so not only are they a lovely comforting carb-blanket, but they are even healthy, and very low in calories for something so squidgy and delicious.
I like to cook them simply in water or stock, and then use them as the starchy, comforting, chewy base of a delicious salad. The first time I tried buckwheat, I made this wonderful salad from Sonia over at The Healthy Foodie. The combination was irresistible: sweet, chewy pieces of dried fruit coupled with toasted nuts and tangy goat's cheese. Buckwheat works so well in salads because it has a slight nutty flavour of its own, which means it can assert itself well against both sweet and savoury ingredients.
For dinner this evening, I was really craving a favourite salad of mine: pomegranate-glazed roasted aubergine with couscous, mint, feta cheese and pomegranate seeds. Obviously, couscous was out of the question, but then I had the brainwave of replacing it with buckwheat.
I think I actually prefer it. Buckwheat has a creaminess that you don't get with couscous, which can be quite dry if not drenched in oil. It also has that deliciously moreish risotto-like consistency, so can easily be voraciously ingested, mouthful by starchy mouthful.
To my base of cooked buckwheat, I added broad beans - I can't get enough of them at the moment, and wanted something green and something with a crunchier texture than the soft aubergine - chopped fresh mint (goes so well with aubergine), aubergines tossed in a mixture of olive oil, honey and pomegranate molasses then roasted until soft and squishy, crumbled feta, and fresh pomegranate seeds. I dressed the buckwheat with a little tahini paste, for added creaminess and because in my mind nothing works better with aubergine, and Dijon mustard, for a bit of a kick.
Basically this was a salad born of my cravings and of what I had in the fridge or just thought might work well if I chucked it into the mix. It ended up being utterly delicious, a simple meal with simple ingredients that tasted perfect and wonderful. It's super-healthy, but in an utterly satisfying, starchy way. You'd never believe something gluten-free could be so creamy and delicious. I'd highly encourage any gluten-free dieters out there, if they haven't already, to give buckwheat a go - it could be the answer to that empty, couscous-shaped hole in your life, and is the basis for so many wonderful and versatile recipes. If I can get my hands on some buckwheat flour, which I've totally failed to do so far, though I've been trying for months, I'd be really interested to experiment with some gluten-free baking.
Other than this pretty and perfect plateful, my gluten-free eating today has been as follows: porridge with grated apple, sultanas and blueberries for breakfast; more of yesterday's creamy smoked trout pasta salad for lunch, with a nectarine; a post-teaching snack of a mango and a banana. I've had a great day, feeling very energised throughout despite desperately not wanting to leave my bed when my alarm went off early this morning. I wouldn't say it's a hugely dramatic difference, but I definitely feel cleaner and healthier somehow. It might all be in my head, but it's still a pretty good feeling. I'm not even that happy it's the final day of my gluten-free challenge tomorrow; in truth, there's nothing I've really missed.
Apart from couscous.
But now I have buckwheat, so even that doesn't haunt my gastronomic dreams any more. Hurrah.
Buckwheat salad with pomegranate-glazed aubergine, feta, broad beans and mint (serves 3-4):
- 3 medium or 2 very large aubergines
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar if you can't find this)
- 1 tbsp honey
- Salt and pepper
- 180g buckwheat groats
- Two large handfuls frozen broad beans
- 3 tsp tahini paste
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 20g fresh mint, leaves shredded
- 100g feta cheese, crumbled
- Half a pomegranate
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cut the aubergines into 1-inch cubes. Mix together the olive oil, molasses, honey and some seasoning, then toss the aubergine in this mixture and spread the pieces out on a baking tray. Season again and roast for 30-40 minutes until soft and sticky. Set aside.
Put the buckwheat in a pan, add 400ml water, bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for 10 mins. After this time, add the broad beans to the pan, cover, and cook for another 5 mins or so, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the buckwheat is tender (if there's any liquid remaining, drain it off). Mix the buckwheat and beans with the tahini and mustard, and season well.
Mix the buckwheat with the aubergine pieces and most of the mint. Crumble in the feta cheese. Using a rolling pin, bash the seeds out of the pomegranate over the bowl and combine gently. Serve garnished with the rest of the mint.
I'd like to introduce you to a new contender for my 'favourite cookbook of all time' award. It's a keeper. It's going to be adorned with sauce splatters, anointed with oil smears, christened with overkeen garlicky fingers and placed in pride of place on my shelf before the summer is out.
When I first picked up my copy of Reza's Indian Spice, kindly sent to me to review by Quadrille Books, I flicked through the pages briefly. I'm pretty good at surmising from the quickest of flicks whether I'm going to be interested in a new cookbook or not. There are several factors that contribute to this:
- The amount and quality of photography (sad to say, but I'm generally not interested if there are no photos - how are you supposed to be drawn in by a dish if you can't see it presented to its full potential?)
- The general style and layout of the pages (although I enjoy the sparseness of - for example - Nigel Slater's books, sometimes simple can mean boring)
- The way the book falls open (yes, this may sound silly, but if the pages aren't going to fall open for you to cook from without holding the book open manually, then that's a pretty useless cookbook - Dan Lepard wins points for Short and Sweet, whereas Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day is severely lacking in this area, requiring the machinations of several pieces of kitchen equipment to keep the pages apart long enough to glance at the ingredients)
- The desserts section (always the one I flick to first, reading the book from back to front, rather like the way a keen sports fan reads a newspaper)
- And, of course, the titles of the dishes and whether they appeal.
Reza Mahammad is a TV chef, and also owns the 'Star of India' restaurant in London. The philosophy behind this book, as it proclaims on the title page, is 'Eastern Recipes for Western Cooks', and I couldn't think of a better summary. Reza was brought up in London, educated in India, and has a house in France. He is passionate about all kinds of cuisine, but even more so about combining them to result in new and fabulous recipes.
This is evident from many of the dishes in the book; 'Frindian' (French/Indian) ideas such as 'Paupiettes of lemon sole with saffron sauce', or a dessert combining a very English ingredient, rhubarb, with the Indian flavours of almonds and oranges. Reza adds cinnamon to a classic celeriac gratin to serve with duck and orange, takes Italian polenta and adds a hefty dose of Indian spice, stuffs a haunch of venison with dried fruit and chilli after rubbing it with anise, cardamom and allspice, puts a spin on meatballs with mint, coriander, ginger, chilli and cumin, uses the very European beetroot in a lemongrass- and lime-infused salad, and even provides recipes for an Indian High Tea, featuring crab samosas, masala tea, sweet potato cakes and saffron halva with pistachios.
The book is simply divided into sections. 'Quick and chic' dishes are exactly what they proclaim themselves to be: chilli-seared mackerel, spicy beef salad, lemon and coriander chicken, and several lassi recipes (mint and cumin, roasted fig, rhubarb, minted mango, strawberry and cardamom) which I thought was a nice touch - you can complete your Eastern feast by stretching the theme as far as the drinks. 'Slow burners' are those that require a bit more cooking time, like sweet and sour stuffed chicken, or 'Royal leg of lamb'; 'Showing Off' are those perfect dinner party dishes designed to impress, like stuffed chillies, stuffed quail, and spice-crusted monkfish; 'Classic Curries' are fairly self-explanatory - think tandoori prawns, red fish curry, chicken in a cashew nut sauce, lamb and potato korma; 'Perfect Partners' are where you'll find all the side dishes and chutneys to accompany your chosen recipe, like mooli and pomegranate salad, roast potatoes with chilli and chaat masala, saffron-roast cauliflower; and, finally, 'Sweet Like Candy' contains the dessert offerings.
So, let's go through my checklist, in case you need any more convincing as to the merits of this book.
The photography is absolutely gorgeous. Truly stunning, with a rather dark and moody aspect that really highlights the exotic qualities of the food, allowing its amazing colours to stand out. The photos of myriad spices scattered over bold backdrops and beautiful crockery are some of my favourite, as is an image of pomegranates on the contents page. Whereas some recipe books post photos of the dish simply to provide a reference point, these images are works of art in themselves, vibrant still lifes that really bring the book alive and infuse you with a zest and passion for the heady spices that are boldly used in each recipe.
The pages are beautifully laid out, with a little description of each dish (I always think this is essential - my favourite part of reading a recipe book is learning about the provenance of each dish; how it relates to others in the country's cuisine, where it originated, how the author feels about it). The font is simple and undistracting, and the ingredients clearly listed. What I particularly like is the little note at the bottom of each recipe recommending a side dish or accompaniment, ranging from simple coconut rice to something more elaborate, like 'sambal with lemon grass', or 'kidney beans with dried lime', all of which can be found later in the book. It's sometimes so hard to know what to pair complex spiced food with, especially if you are a 'Western cook', but this takes all of that stress away, while inspiring you to cook not just one but maybe two or even three dishes from the book at the same time.
Also, the book easily stays open on each page. Towards the beginning and end you might need to gently weigh it down with something (my iPhone normally serves this purpose), but generally it's very easy to cook from. Points for that.
The dessert section is relatively quite small, and I have to say I'm not hugely drawn in by any of them, but that's mainly because quite a lot of milk and cream is involved - think white chocolate, cardamom and rose pannacotta, Vermicelli milk pudding with pistachios, mango creme brulée, and rice pudding with rose petal jam. They all sound lovely, exotic and sweet, but I'm not a big fan of dairy in desserts (apart from cheesecake). This is totally personal, though - I'm sure they taste fabulous if you're a fan of that sort of thing, and once again the photography is gorgeous.
Finally, the titles of the dishes and whether they appeal. You only have to read 'Five jewels dal', 'Persian chicken with saffron and cardamom', 'scallops with coconut and ginger', 'spice-crusted monkfish in tomato sauce', 'duck breasts with orange, ginger and cinnamon', 'lamb pasanda with green mangoes', 'beansprout salad with chargrilled asparagus and coconut', and 'gingered carrots with maple syrup' to understand why I couldn't wait to get cooking. The dishes are at once exotic and familiar, putting an Eastern spin on well-loved European classics, or giving us an authentic version of things we love already - tandoori prawns, chicken masala, beef tikka.
I dived in the day after I received my book, and made the 'sweet potato and goat's cheese samosas'. These use filo pastry and are baked not fried, which Reza seems proud of - it "both makes them healthier and somehow intensifies the flavour of the filling". The filling consists of chunks of cooked sweet potato, mixed with ground toasted cumin seeds (toasting them first gives a wonderful aromatic flavour, which you just don't get with ready-ground cumin), goat's cheese, spring onions, coriander, chilli, cinnamon and garlic. This is wrapped in little filo parcels, which are brushed with butter and scattered with cumin seeds before being baked.
They were a real surprise, one of those dishes where the end result is so much more than the sum of its parts. All the filling ingredients melded together to provide a beautiful soft, rich, deeply aromatic taste sensation, given freshness by the cheese and herbs. Reza recommends serving them with an 'Indo-Italian pesto', using watercress, rocket and coriander with chilli, parmesan, lemon and pine nuts. I didn't have time to make this, so served mine with a simple watercress and pomegranate salad, which was a lovely fresh match for the rich filling. These would be a great dinner party starter; the crunch of the flaky filo against the soft, flavoursome filling is so delicious, and they're great sharing food. I couldn't stop picking them up off the baking sheet and eating them. Allow them to cool a bit, though, and don't eat straight from the oven as I did, or you'll burn your mouth. That's how inviting they are.
I was particularly intrigued by the 'Braised and Fried Beef' recipe. Reza calls it "rich, dark and reminiscent of a Malaysian rendang". It involved an unusual method, in that the beef is braised in rich spiced liquor first before being drained and fried. I couldn't resist the gorgeous combination of spices: cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, plus plenty of chilli - the recipe suggested three dried chillies for the spice mix, three fresh green chillies for the braising, then another two green ones for the frying.
I'm so glad I followed my gut feeling and used only one dried chilli and one fresh. If I had followed the original, I think I might be in A&E right now with third degree burns to my mouth. Instead, I was rewarded with a really gorgeous dish. The meat was meltingly tender, with a very deep, rich flavour from all the aromatics, particularly the curry leaves which give off a curious earthy fragrance. It combined wonderfully with the onion and red pepper during the second frying stage, though I wasn't quite sure about the method - Reza suggests frying it along with the remaining cooking liquid, which means that the meat doesn't fry properly as it's soaked in liquid. Instead, I added the liquid bit by bit and ended up with more of a saucy curry (oo-er) than a dry dish, but it was delicious nonetheless. I served it with the coconut rice from the book, which was subtle and a perfect partner to the rich dish, tempering its heat (it wasn't too spicy at all; it had a pleasant kick which enhanced all of the other flavours and I rather enjoyed).
I can think of only one improvement that could be made to this book, and that would be to have a nice glossary at the front or back explaining some of the more unusual ingredients, and giving advice on where to source them. Certain types of chilli, for example, or elusive beasts like asafoetida and fenugreek. They're not the easiest things to get hold of, but if you know what you're looking for and are given the name of a decent online stockist or a recommendation to seek out your local Asian grocer, you'll be on the right track. It's also quite nice to know about the provenance of each of these exotic ingredients, and how they are generally used in Eastern cuisine.
But that is honestly my only slight criticism. I absolutely adore this book. It's beautiful, inspiring, tantalising and truly one to be savoured and cooked from at every possible opportunity.