Archive for April 2010

Win Tickets for The Real Food Festival

April 27th, 2010 — 8:23pm

OK so here’s the deal: I’ve got 4 pairs of free tickets to give away so I’m running a little competition. All you need to do to win some is tell me a little food story. It can be as short as a few words or as long as your arm; as simple as telling me the name of your favourite dish; a  joke; a guilty pleasure you’re happy to embrace or a moment of consumption that you’re genuinely ashamed of. Get it off your chest – I’m all ears.

My 4 favourite comments will win the tickets, so the judgement will be based on my whim and fancy; there will be no random number generator or witness present. I’m easily impressed so fire away.

There’s also a 2 for 1 deal up for grabs – that’s 2 tickets for a bargainous £12 for a runner up, should they wish to take the deal.

The Real Food Festival is taking place in Earl’s Court again this year, but don’t let that put you off – many of the people inside are selling some really lovely stuff. I know because I went to visit some of them last year and wrote about it on the RFF blog. I’ll be there myself, serving up tea at the ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’, which will involve Henrietta ‘tea lady’ Lovell and those crazy kids Bompas and Parr. Do pop over for a cuppa.

I’ll choose the winners on Monday 3rd May.

37 comments » | Competitions, Food Events, Markets, Tickets

Mummified Chicken

April 25th, 2010 — 7:30pm

I found ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’ in Peckham Library. It was on my radar because the man who wrote it, artist Jake Tilson, is local, and the book has a section on Peckham. One of the recipes was this ‘mummified chicken’ – apparently so named by the author’s wife but Middle Eastern in origin and properly called ‘firakh mashwiya bi-al-summa’. You get your chook, smother it with a paste of blended onions and tart, lemony sumac and then stuff it inside a load of flatbread.

In the book, Jake suggests using Lebanese lavish flatbread, but when I went down to Persepolis in search of something suitable, Sally told me that Jake also buys his bread there and always uses this circular khobez, so I followed suit (we’re all tight in Peckham, you see). The bread splits apart very easily and has just enough room, handily, to hold a chicken. I stuffed it inside a double layer and then put a further two on in the opposite direction to make sure the bird was nice and cosy.

The whole thing is baked for 3-4 hours (depending on size) and although you are left with very crisp, inedible bread on top, the underneath is gooey with roasted chicken juices. We actually squabbled over the last few pieces of super savoury, unctuous, saturated khobez. The bird itself was incredibly succulent and flavoursome, having steamed and sizzled in its little enclosure. Jake suggests serving it with rice but a green salad worked perfectly well for us.

This dish would make excellent dinner party fodder. It’s really easy, you can leave it in the oven for ages and it has a ‘big reveal’ when you crack open the shell and the fragrant meaty steam puffs out. Just make sure you’ve got good mates round, because you will be fighting over those bread scraps, trust me.

Mummified Chicken or Firakh Mashwiya Bi-al-summa (from ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’ by Jake Tilson)

2 large onions, grated
2 tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
4 khobez breads or other suitable flatbreads
1 large chicken

Preheat your oven to 175C/Gas 4

Make a coarse paste with the onions, sumac, oil, salt and pepper and cover the chicken with it, inside and out. Grease a baking dish. Stuff your chicken inside your bread and put it in the dish, adding more bread as necessary until it is completely enclosed. You just have to do your best here. Cover it loosely with foil and bake for 3-4 hours, depending on the size of your chicken. You need to brush the top of the bread with water every now and then to stop it burning. It does go very crisp on top. Serve with pilau rice and/or salad.

20 comments » | Bread, Main Dishes, Meat

Adipoli Parathas

April 21st, 2010 — 7:59am

The tava is still my favourite new toy. For a while, I didn’t even put it away but just let it sit on the worktop so I could look at it more, like a new pair of shoes that you just can’t put in the cupboard. I started basic with chapatis and then felt ready to move on to parathas. It was supposed to be a gentle learning curve until I spotted this gorgeous stuffed version; it had to be done.

This is from the brilliant ‘Indian’ by Das Sreedharan; hopefully I won’t get into trouble for publishing another of his recipes. I can’t understand why the book isn’t more popular to be honest. I found mine for a stupidly low price and quite a few others have told me how they found it in a bargain bin. Das is from Kerala and it’s packed full of South Indian recipes; coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds are predominant flavours throughout.

Apparently, this recipe is based on “the popular Ceylonese tradition of flat, thin bread dough stuffed with…seafood masala.” You make the paratha dough (wholemeal flour and oil) and then slap it on the hot tava before smearing with the mix of  prawns, egg, onion, chilli and spices. This cooks briefly and then you flip so that the coating sears and sizzles instantly on the tava. You flip again and then roll it all up.

They are dangerously moreish. Crisp paratha and soft, spiced stuffing, fragrant with the essential curry leaf; every now and then a succulent prawn. It’s really tempting to re-make and pack ‘em to bursting but this is one of those times to resist – knowing when to stop and all that. They look weird while you’re cooking them (a bit like someone sicked up on a paratha – there’s no denying it), but once rolled, we’re talking high quality stuffed carb here – we ate four each in one sitting and yearned for more.

I suggest you make a steaming great heap of them. There’s nothing else for it. You won’t need any accompaniments except perhaps something to dunk them into – they’re a meal in themselves.

Adipoli Parathas (from Indian by Das Sreedharan)
(makes eight)

225g wholemeal flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing

For the filling

8 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
2.5 cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
10 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
150g raw prawns, peeled
2 eggs, beaten (I used 3)

To make the paratha dough, put the flour in a bowl and gradually stir in the oil and about 150ml water to make a soft, pliable dough. Knead for 3-4 minutes, then return to the bowl, cover and set aside for an hour.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the mustard seeds and when the start to pop, add the ginger, onions, chilli and curry leaves. Cook over medium to low heat for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then until soft. Add turmeric and salt and cook for 1 minute then add the prawns until pink and cooked through. Remove the mix from the pan and set aside.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll one into a ball before rolling out into a circle as thinly as possible. It should be paper thin and about 8-9 inches in diameter.

Heat a tava, griddle or frying pan and brush with oil. When hot, slap on a circle of dough (the heat should be medium). Cook until it starts to turn golden. Stir the eggs into the prawn mix, lower the heat and then spread 3 scant tablespoons onto the paratha. Leave until the egg is pretty much cooked and then flip, searing the mix onto the paratha. Wait until it is stuck well on there before you flip again and cook briefly. You want it nicely golden underneath.

You now just roll it up. I kept mine warm in a very low oven while I made the rest. I served them cut into two or three pieces each with a yoghurty dipping sauce which had some coriander, chilli and lemon juice stirred through (I think). A dusting of chilli powder on the parathas is really good.

14 comments » | Bread, Eggs, Fish, Main Dishes, Snacks, Street Food

Riverford organic farm

April 19th, 2010 — 10:24pm

The phrase ‘seasonal eating’ has now been so over used that it’s become slightly cringe worthy, like the idea of eating only locally sourced produce and all the sickly lingo that goes with it – ‘locavore’ being the best example. The principles behind these concepts are well meaning, yet it appears we have lost all sense of perspective. For a while, it seemed like anyone who ate a pepper in winter was going to get locked up for doing it and it’s a shame we got to that stage because it masks the bigger picture, which is about the pure pleasure of experiencing something at its best.

I’m thinking about this because I was invited to visit the Riverford organic farm in Devon last weekend. The weather was glorious and our hangovers were massive, having been fed and watered very well at the award winning Riverford Field Kitchen the evening before. Our merriment continued well into the night after leaving the restaurant and there were some hairy moments bouncing around in the back of that Land Rover the next day I can tell you. Guy Watson, the owner and founder of the Riverford business, saw this as the best way for us to see as much of the farm as possible. “You look like you’re struggling a bit Helen” he remarked. He was right.

Guy Watson is the sort of bloke who is just in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing. This man is part of the farm. From his expertise, to the well used knife he often produces to deftly pluck a cabbage or bisect a leek, to his smile-lined, sun-weathered face. He understands the ecosystem he’s dealing with and works with it -apparently the key to successful organic farming.

We start the tour with a bit of poly tunnel action. Lettuces and other leaves grow in the muggy plastic structures, apparently so fast that ‘you can almost hear them’ doing it. There is the usual compact, crinkled gem and some more interesting stuff like dandelion leaves – bitter and earthy. Apparently not many customers are keen but Guy really enjoys them and so do I.

We bounce from field to field plucking leeks, spring greens and rhubarb. We are all fascinated by the purple sprouting broccoli, with one of us remarking on how ignorant we sometimes are about the way vegetables grow. A final burst of energy saw everyone huffing towards the garlic wood – Riverford customers get 2-3 bunches per season in their vegetable box (they’ve done a survey and apparently this is the average preference). My big bunch has gone into a soup and frittata. Neither novel ideas, both delicious.

I used to get a vegetable box, but I cancelled it about a year ago because, quite frankly, I got bored. It wasn’t a Riverford box though, and I’m not just puffing hot air when I say that I find their boxes more interesting. A bunch of dandelion leaves and wild garlic would both be most welcome. Of course in the dead of winter, when it’s all carrots, carrots and woody parsnips, it’s a real struggle for anyone to stay enthused. Through the spring and summer though, I rather miss the surprise of cracking open the box; things move fast and favourites are superseded quickly.

This is the challenge of eating seasonally. I am suspicious of most people who say they don’t eat any aubergines or spring onions in winter (although I bet Guy doesn’t). For me, the important thing is to celebrate stuff that grows in this country and grows well, at its best. A perfectly sweet and scarlet British strawberry is a classic example. It’s about supporting our British fruit and veg when it’s really doing its thing.

Riverford Organics

Purple sprouting broccoli is dancing its last fandango in April. Here’s a recipe.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Reblochon Frittata

Reblochon cheese, sliced
1 large handful purple sprouting broccoli stems
1 handful wild garlic leaves, shredded or a couple of crushed regular cloves
6 eggs, beaten
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small leek, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (I used curly)
Salt and pepper

Plunge the broccoli stems into boiling salted water for a few minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Soften the onions and leek in a little olive oil in a skillet or frying pan on a gentle heat (and also the garlic cloves, if using) for about 5 minutes until good and soft. Arrange half the broccoli stems on top. Season the beaten eggs with salt and pepper and mix in the parsley and wild garlic if using and pour this evenly over the broccoli/onion mix. Add the rest of the broccoli and push down into the egg before laying the cheese slices on top.

Cook over a low-moderate heat until you can see the frittata cooking at the edges. You can then pop it under a medium hot grill to finish. Watch it though, because the top cooks fast. Lovely warm but often even better cold for lunch the next day.

16 comments » | Cheese, Eggs, Farms, Vegetables

What should politicians do to improve our food?

April 16th, 2010 — 10:24am

I took part in the Observer Conversation again this month. Goodness knows why they invited me back. Anyway the format is much improved this time, with a group of us sat around having a chat. A lot less intimidating than the first time around; I even managed to remember what I think about a few things. The video has paused itself in rather an unfortunate place for Lizzie, who looks like she’s having a moment in the still below, but is in fact completely normal. The other bloggers in the vid are Tom and Dan.

There is a piece in this month’s OFM about the Brown’s vegetable patch at No. 10.  But are they genuinely interested in food? Does anyone care? Should politicians be trying to influence the way we eat?

14 comments » | Video

The Gowlett: Pizza in Peckham

April 15th, 2010 — 4:52pm

The Gowlett is a pub that does pizza and it takes me all of a few minutes to walk there from my house. The combination of these three facts pleases me. The pizzas are by no means perfect – the toppings are sometimes a bit too generous for my taste (even I can only eat so many capers in one mouthful) and the crusts completely shatter at the edges. They also, without fail, manage to burn one bit of crust on every pizza. Bit annoying.

That said, I keep going back. It’s never taken me more than ten minutes to eat one. The slender base is silky for the most part with just the right amount of cheese and tomato and the toppings are simple and tasty. At £8, they are dicing with the pricey side of things but are clearly taking advantage of their proximity to neighbouring posher bits, East Dulwich and Bellenden and for now at least, getting away with it.

I suppose I’ll have to write a sentence about how the pizza compares to Franco Manca. I’ll sum it up for you: The Gowlett would definitely lose in a fight, but they still hit the spot if you’re in the area. A light and airy pub; plenty of seats; well kept beer; friendly staff and decent pizza. I like. It’s only a matter of time though, before I storm into that kitchen myself and have a look at just why they burn every single pizza, on one edge, every single time. A local pub is all about community innit? Well, I’m about to go and get a little more involved…

The Gowlett
62 Gowlett Road
London SE15 4HY
020 7635 7048

Gowlett on Urbanspoon

12 comments » | Peckham, Pubs, Restaurant Reviews

Garlic Curry with Chapatis & Cucumber Pachadi

April 13th, 2010 — 1:02pm

I now laugh in the face of normal quantities of garlic. Since chicken with 40 cloves I consider myself a hardcore garlic eater. I’m sure you can smell my breath from wherever you are. This recipe contains a whopping 3 whole bulbs and on top of that 3 whole onions, which is a lot of allium considering there’s not much else bulking out this curry save a couple of tomatoes, chillies and spices.

The recipe comes from a book called ‘Indian’ by Das Sreedharan. In it, Das describes how people, “wonder how the garlic is so well tamed by the spicy and tangy tamarind sauce” and it is, but still…wow. Eating this curry is a little bit like being slapped in the face with a spicy lemon, I imagine. At first you pucker up with all that tamarind and then the double heat of red and green chilli kicks in before you cautiously lift a now yellow clove to your lips and bite down on a still crisp and still strong, whole clove of garlic. Then another and another. I really got into munching them down but it definitely felt a bit weird.

I served it will a coconut-heavy vegetable number and we scooped up the lot with my first attempt at chapatis using my new tava. I need to practice getting the shape more uniform but otherwise they were pretty fine and I even managed to get them to puff up a little bit.

I am of the opinion that no curry meal is complete without some sort of raita or other yoghurt based accompaniment and my favourite now is this cucumber pachadi, a recipe from one of my Flickr contacts, which you can find here. It is unusual (to me, at least) in that diced cucumber is first gently simmered with ginger so it is lightly cooked and then cooled and mixed with the yoghurt and a coconut, chilli and mustard seed paste. A temper of coconut oil, dried red chilli and curry leaves is poured on top. I served this to friends recently and they literally squabbled over the bowl.

One more thing about that garlic curry – I would suggest leaving it overnight before serving if you can bear it. Most curries are better the next day but with this the garlic and tamarind really get busy with each other overnight, melding into something  just that little bit softer. You still won’t need to worry about vampires though; I was sweating that shiz for a week.

Garlic Curry (from ‘Indian’ by Das Sreedharan)
Serves 4

75g tamarind pulp (from a block)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
200g garlic cloves, peeled (yep)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
10 curry leaves
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 green chillies, slit lengthways
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tomatoes, finely chopped

Put tamarind pulp in a bowl with 900ml hot water, breaking the pulp up as much as possible. Allow it to soak for 20-30 minutes before straining the water into a bowl through a sieve, pressing down on the pulp to extract as much as possible.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a pan and add 50g of the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the fenugreek seeds and the dried chillies and fry for 1 minute. Remove and drain oon kitchen paper. Transfer to a blender and process to a fine paste.

Heat the remaining oil in a large pan then add the fennel and remaining fenugreek seeds and cook for 1 minute or until they are golden brown. Add the onions, curry leaves and chillies and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onions are soft and then add the turmeric and chilli powder, followed by the chopped tomatoes. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the remaining garlic cloves, the garlic paste from the blender and the tamarind liquid. Cook on a low heat, stirring often for 15 minutes or until the mixture is thick and the garlic well cooked. I actually cooked this for about 15 minutes longer and the garlic was still crisp.

Chapatis (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Bible)

Mix 125g chappati flour (or equal mix of white and wholemeal flours) with about 120ml water and a pinch of salt (my addition, chapatis don’t usually have any) to make a soft dough. Knead well for 10 minutes then shape into a ball and put aside in a bowl with a damp cloth over the top for at least 15 minutes. You can also chill for future use.

When ready to cook, set your tava or heavy based frying pan over a medium high heat while you knead the dough again and divide into six balls. Dust your surface with flour and roll out into a circle about 13cms in diameter. Pick up the chapatti and slap it in your hands to get rid of extra flour then slap it on the tava. Cook for ten seconds then flip it. Cook for another 10 seconds then flip again and using a damp cloth, dab it all over then flip it again – this should make it puff up.

Repeat with the remaining balls of dough. Apparently you can do the puffing up bit just by putting it in the microwave.

17 comments » | Bread, Curry, Far Out Crazy, Healthy, Main Dishes, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, Vegetables

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