Archive for August 2010

Jamaican corn soup

August 30th, 2010 — 6:45pm

It’s the end of the summer and the corn is going cheap. I bought four cobs for a quid in Peckham yesterday and a frankly quite staggering twelve red peppers for the same. Twelve. Not joking.

This soup only uses one you’ll be pleased to know, along with two cobs and some classic Caribbean flavours: thyme, scotch bonnet chilli and coconut. It’s a hearty mix, thickened with yellow split peas and potato but my version is light compared with other recipes which use pumpkin or squash and other vegetables. I prefer a fresher version which keeps the focus on the juicy bursts of corn. I strip one cob and slice the other so I’m not denied the pleasure of gnawing on it.

The scotch bonnet chilli is left whole and slit lengthways to release just moderate fruity heat and the creamy coconut milk smooths things over. It tastes tropical and most importantly, it celebrates the corn. At that price, it would be rude not to.

Jamaican Corn Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli
150g yellow split peas
1 litre stock (I used vegetable)
400ml tin of coconut milk
2 sprigs of thyme
2 cobs corn
1 red pepper, diced
1 large potato, diced

Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or groundnut oil in a pan and add the onion. Let it sweat over a lowish heat for about 8 minutes then add the garlic for a couple of minutes more, taking care not to let it burn. Make a cut down the length of the chilli, but keep it intact and add it to the pan with the split peas, thyme and stock – simmer for 30 minutes.

Prepare the corn by shaving the kernels from one of the cobs, running your knife down the sides, top to bottom. Slice the other one into 2cm thick slices (I nicked that idea from this recipe recently. I also nicked their presentation). Add the corn, coconut milk and potato and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the red pepper for the final 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow the soup to cool a little then remove the chilli, thyme and corn slices (reserve the corn slices) and blend half the soup. If it is still quite hot then make sure not to fill the blender more than half way and hold the lid down because if you don’t you will end up with soup all over your kitchen. It will blast the lid off the blender. Return to the pan and add back the corn slices. Reheat if necessary, adjust the seasoning and serve.

14 comments » | Caribbean Food, Food From The Rye, Gluten-free, Soups, Starters, Vegetables

Mutton Paomo

August 26th, 2010 — 8:31pm

I came across this dish when I was looking for new ways to eat pickled garlic, which is something I’ve been doing a lot. What a condiment. Spiky yet sweet, it’s an unusual and addictive flavour. My friend Sally Butcher who owns the Iranian shop and deli, Persepolis tells me that in the Middle East, “they eat it with everything.” This makes sense to me.

On my internet travels I came across an apparently famous Chinese dish called the mutton or yangrou paomo; it’s from Xi’an, the result of cuisines converging via the Silk Road. Small pieces of unleavened ‘Muslim flat bread’ are an Arabian influence; the diner tears the bread into peanut-sized pieces and returns the bowl to the cook who tops it with mutton slices, spiced broth and often, glass noodles.* The dough pieces swell to form springy nuggets as they soak up the liquid. Common accompaniments are chilli paste, coriander leaves and most importantly, the pickled garlic. I was having me some of that.

The bread was a bit of a ball-ache. An e-mail exchange with Sunflower revealed that it’s usually a “heavy, griddled bun similar to an English muffin” but attempts to find a recipe failed. I considered substituting a muffin but it seemed the wrong way to approach a challenge. In the end I used the ingredients found scrawled on a piece of paper, apparently the results of a frantic searching session; I have no recollection. Cooked in a dry pan, it was dense enough to form the desired sticky dumplings rather than gummy mush.

Mostly you just need to chuck everything in a pot, but it will take a good three hours to cook, so one for the weekend. Other recipes cook broth and meat separately but I didn’t have time for that so I asked the butcher to cut up a leg of mutton and simmered the meat and bones together. Mighty black cardamom pods swelled like giant raisins on the broth, releasing their smoky, underground flavour. A lean over the pot made my nostrils buzz with chilli and star anise.

I’m pretty sure that this dish only partly resembles the real thing. I needed more broth in the bowl that’s for sure and usually the meat would be added separately before the hot stock is poured over. At least, that’s what I managed to glean from some rather dodgy translation. I do know however, that the dish is the most famous contribution of Xi’an to Chinese cuisine and apparently, served nearly everywhere in the city and also as part of the state banquet. I think it’s fair to say they are proud of it. If I’ve made it wrong or done it a disservice then I apologise but in my defence, it tasted great.

Mutton Paomo (Yangrou Paomo)

1kg of mutton (mostly chunks of meat and a few large pieces of bone)
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 x 2 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
1 mild red chilli, slit lengthways or chopped (I slit mine as I wanted to add chilli paste as a garnish)
200g glass noodles*
2.5 teaspoons of salt
8 peppercorns
2 star anise
A few pieces of cassia bark
3 black cardamom pods, crushed with the side of a knife
2 tablespoons cooking wine

Pickled garlic (available from Persepolis and Khan’s if you live in Peckham), plus chilli paste and coriander leaves to garnish

Trim your meat of any large pieces of fat. Put your meat, bones and everything else apart from the noodles and garnish into a large stock pot. If you want to get fancy, you could bundle your spices into a piece of muslin to make them easier to remove later on. Cover with water (mine took about 3 litres) and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and allow to cook, uncovered for about 3 hours. After this time, remove the bones, whole spices and any remaining pieces of visible fat. I now allowed the broth to cool and skimmed the excess fat from the top. There is already enough fat in the broth to give a good flavour.

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions.

To serve, re-heat and spoon over peanut sized pieces of the bread (recipe below). Add a serving of noodles to the bowl and garnish as desired with the chilli, coriander and pickled garlic.

For the bread

300g plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon salt
200ml boiling water
1 tablespoon lard, softened (by softened I mean leave it out until completely soft)

Mix all the ingredients together until you have a smooth dough. Let it rest for a little while before rolling it out into 8 pieces, about 4-5 inches in diameter. Wipe a heavy skillet or tava with oil and cook each bread for 5 minutes or so on each side until lightly golden. To serve, tear into small pieces and spoon the broth and condiments on top.

* As you can see, I only had wheat noodles.

10 comments » | Bread, Main Dishes, Meat, Noodles, Pickles, Soups, Stews, Street Food

A fresh coconut cake

August 19th, 2010 — 8:57pm

I was on the verge of writing about a great new jerk place I’ve discovered in Peckham but when it came down to business, I just couldn’t do it to you. She’s writing about jerk, again?! May as well re-name the blog Jerk Stories and be done with it.

So I’ve spared you. For now.

What do you want? What does anyone want instead of some juicy jerk and a hummin’ curry goat I asked myself. Probably a pretty little cake or something.

Here you go then; here’s your cake. The only real woman-power involved is dealing with your coconut. It’s easiest to break them open with a hammer but I don’t have one so I just smashed it against the wall a couple of times. Once you’ve cracked it, the best way to remove the insides is to use one of those nifty winding corkscrew de-flesher wotsits but you probably don’t have one (me neither), so carefully slip some kind of implement (I used a combination of butter knife, skewer and thin-lipped spoon) between husk and flesh; large pieces will ping out across your kitchen. You can then retrieve them and go about the business of grating. It’s a faff. I recommend investing in the proper equipment. Whatever happens though, don’t use desiccated coconut; it’s gross.

This recipe was sent to me by a friend. It’s light, so you can eat a gargantuan slice without feeling sick, which is brilliant or dangerous, depending on your attitude towards healthy eating. I ate too much, then packed the rest off to work with Chris. We take it in turns to feed the fruits of my labour to our colleagues, thus garnering favour in both camps. This earns me extra cups of tea throughout my working day and means I can gatecrash Chris’ work events every now and then, (“just happened to be passing…”) where the beer is always free flowing and the people are nice. Nothing keeps things sweet like a slice of cake. Except perhaps a leg of jerk chicken.

A fresh coconut cake
(This is my friend’s recipe. She has asked me to say that she is not entirely happy with the icing, so there you go, I’ve said it).

This fills 2 x 20cm loose-bottomed cake tins

For the cake
175g self-raising flour
75g fresh coconut, grated
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
175g butter, softened
175g golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing
100g softened butter
100g icing sugar
200g softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g coconut, grated, plus extra to garnish

Preheat the oven to 170C
Grease and line the two tins with greaseproof paper

Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Add the eggs, butter, vanilla and sugar and beat for a couple of minutes on low speed until well combined. You can do this without an electric mixer, using a wooden spoon. Add the coconut, stir it in and divide the mixture evenly between the two tins. Cook in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or so, until evenly golden and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tins and then turn out onto a wire cooling rack. I find the easiest way is to position your cake tins on top of a can or jar then let the sides drop down leaving the cake and base of the tin resting on top.

When ready to make the icing, beat the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix well then add the coconut and mix again. When the cake is cool, spread one third of the icing between the two layers and sandwich them together. Spread the remaining two thirds over the top and around the sides and then garnish with extra grated coconut as desired.

18 comments » | Cakes

Zigni House, Islington

August 17th, 2010 — 7:45am

Do you know why I was able to resort to using flash so I could show you this food? Because there was no-one else in the restaurant, that’s why. This didn’t bode well.

We were actually in the area looking for a Turkish place. As you know, I’m not really one for tramping around up norf but I’ve sploshed up and down the Essex Road twice recently (both times: raining), because I  just can’t resist a budget recommendation. That, and the fact it was an excuse to visit The Mucky Pup, a damn fine boozer and home of my Chilli Cook Off victory (very modest, me). I met The Restaurant Recommender at a food event a few months ago, a food event which did not have much going for it in the way of food. So it happened that polite chit-chat turned into a frenzied slobbering quest to find grilled meat. I was sceptical (I mean, it’s in Islington. We’re talking cheap. This is Islington?) but I remained open-minded, for the first half hour. By the time my canvas pumps were sodden and my hair a frizzed shock, we decided to give it up and go home. I won’t tell you what I ended up eating that night.

This time we knew the location but forgot the occasion – Ramadan. The place is shut for a month. Right next door though was Zigni House, which ticked all the boxes what with it being a) open and b) serving food. Zigni is an Eritrean and East African restaurant. My only previous experience of the cuisine had been at Asmara in Brixton, which was fun but not exciting enough for a return visit.

With every table in the place to choose from, it had to be the funnel-lidded example with woven wicker chairs. Five minutes of creaking and fidgeting put paid to the idea of that being any fun; we moved swiftly across to something more practical. If you’ve never eaten East African food, you should know that what happens is they bring out an injera, which is this brilliant huge pancake full of bubbles like a giant flat crumpet. The batter has an addictive sour taste, which comes from fermentation for a couple of days at room temperature. It’s made with yeast, but you wouldn’t know it because the mix is runny, which allows it to be spread thin during cooking. It’s like a skinny sourdough crepe. In Africa it’s traditionally made with a small grain called teff but in other countries often replaced partly or entirely with wheat flour.

Dishes are served on top of the injera and everyone rips in, using each piece to scoop at the various stews. While you are eating, the juices from each dish are soaking  through the porous surface, making everything tastier as you work inwards; the final, gut-busting stages are the most precious; we’re talking crispy chips at the bottom of the packet stuff here. It’s every woman for herself.

We ordered a variety of meat and side dishes and it fast became apparent that this place was better than Asmara, its South London counterpart (sniffle). Dulet was a ballsy tripe dish, mysteriously fusty but freshened with yoghurt and herbs. More yoghurt arrived as a side dish, strained of excess liquid and whipped; a perfect contrast to dishes like Quanta-Fit-Fit (dried beef and injera pieces in hot ‘Zigni chilli sauce’). The almost biltong-like Zil Zil brought a welcome texture break from saucy stews, its spice rub as addictive as crack. It came with Ajbo Hamli, chopped spinach, cheese and butter. Nice. Other vegetarian dishes were great too; our starter of Timtomo Rolls was injera filled with richly spiced lentils. Kategna was – you’ve guessed it – injera, this time fried, dusted with chilli and slicked with ghee.

At Asmara, everything was a bit samey, like an Indian curry house that uses the same sauce for every dish, adding more or less chilli powder and calling it a different name; at Zigni each dish was bold and surprising. Even the injera was better (more sour) which makes them on to a winner considering it pops up in every other dish.

Why the place was empty I do not know. Okay, so it was Tuesday night and pissing with rain but the reverse-snobbed SE Londoner in me wants to think it’s because the well-to-do people of Islington were all wolfing down meringues in the gorgeous but pricey Ottolenghi then stopping for a cupcake on the way home. This is probably rubbish. I hope for the sake of the owner, Tsige Haile that the place was just a victim of a rainy Tuesday because the food at Zigni is satisfying, unusual and cheap. Did I mention cheap? People of Islington, hear me now! Cupcakes are all style and no substance and anyway, who wants icing on the seat of the 3-wheeler buggy when you can let the precious ones work it out of their systems by pawing at the mighty injera? Deep down, everyone wants to eat with their hands – child or not.

330 Essex Road
N1 3PB
Tel: 020 7226 7418

Zigni House on Urbanspoon

16 comments » | African food, Eritrean food, Restaurant Reviews

The Jerk Cook Out 2010

August 15th, 2010 — 9:58pm

I snubbed breakfast and arrived absolutely ravenous and half an hour an hour early for the Jerk Cook Out. I wanted to get the measure of the place, formulate a plan of attack and talk to some of the cooks. As the meat hit the grill and the smoke started twisting above the trees though, I got impatient and began repeatedly texting and calling my friends until one of them turned up; some pleasantries were exchanged (“how are you?” “yes yes fine whatever so let’s go to this place first then this then this…”) and we were off.

Tasty Jerk have won the competition two years running. I asked them if they fancied their chances but the answer came that they were just in it for kicks; if you win twice in a row then you have to take a year off. We got stuck right into some of their jerk pork belly. The fat was like eating the pork scratchings of my dreams. I like a touch more cloves in the mix but the allspice was prominent enough and I wonder if they put berries in the coals to infuse the smoke. As styles go it was more dry rub than sticky glaze but there was skill in the cooking and confidence in the spice.

There are different styles of jerk; there’s the all-in-one marinade and then the dry rub and glaze. I want to experiment with the latter. Some places seemed to be serving the meat with a sweeter sauce on the side. Last year’s runners up Jerk Lan took this approach, with disappointing results. Their sign urged us to ASK FOR SPECIAL SAUCE and so of course we did, which was a shame because it ruined the meat. I was thinking hot pepper paste with a kick to rival a donkey but instead we got saccharine gloop which seemed to be a mixture of the worst sweet and sour sauce of my life, sugar syrup and water. We could only judge the meat by licking the crusted remnants of chicken skin from the corners of our mouths, which, incidentally, were good and garlicky.

Over a swift pint of Meantime Pale Ale at The Florence it was time to re-group and digest before riding back on the second wind. My friend enjoyed our third portion better, although I can’t say I thought much of it. The real surprise came in the form of a spit roasted lamb, again from Tasty Jerk. Shards of crunchy skin and fat with a proper heat elevated to an out of body experience by the accompanying chilli sauce.

The lurid artificial hue of a drink is directly proportional to its level of efficacy in quenching the fire in your mouth. Everyone should know this. A couple of Slush Puppies the colour of 1980’s neon legwarmers brought us back from the endorphin super highway. Thought you’d turned your back on the SP at ten years of age? Think again.

The problem with an event getting bigger of course, is that quality becomes diluted. Our pork and lamb were great, although I did know of them and make a beeline. A later impulsive purchase of curry goat was watery and timidly spiced but there were so many places to choose from, it was hard to know where to start over-indulging. When considering this conundrum, it seemed that my only chink of light would come in the form of my judging the competition, so that I could visit each and every stall. I would systematically work the field, savouring each nugget of pork, fish and chicken like it was my last before slipping peacefully into a jerk coma.

And then I’d wake up.

The annual Jerk Cook Out Festival takes place in Brockwell Park (formerly Horniman Museum) in August. Dates vary so keep an eye out. This year’s event ran from 12-6pm.

If you like jerk check out my jerk recipe and my top tips for great jerk.

23 comments » | Barbecue, Caribbean Food, Cooking Competitions, Food From The Rye, Meat, Peckham, Street Food

Obalende Suya Express, Peckham

August 9th, 2010 — 9:54pm

I have discovered the suya. Just down the road on Peckham High Street is a place selling skewer after sizzling skewer of this African street food. The suya originated in Nigeria and is basically like an African kebab; thin strips of meat are rubbed with ground peanuts and spices and then grilled. A traditional accompaniment is sliced tomato and onion.

I’ve been eyeing up Obalende Suya Express ever since I moved to Peckham. It’s a scruffy little place, the waiting area consisting of a few battered chairs that look like they came from an old boys’ club in Blackpool about 20 years ago; the paint peels from the walls and there’s a strip of those plastic backlit signs above the counter a la classic ‘bab shop. Behind it though, is the grill, and this is where the magic happens. I tried hard to remember the last time I’d eaten such smoke infused meat. It didn’t happen.

My beef suya strips were tender in the middle and then almost jerky-like at the edges, with treasures of crisp fat. Even the jollof rice was good and I’ve never really been a fan; it was almost dry yet not claggy, held together with an orange, hot peppered paste which hummed in our mouths. The really big surprise though, was the fried plantain. I’ve always struggled with its sweetness and often mushy texture but Obalende had cooked theirs with a touch of acidity and boy, does it make all the difference.

We scuttled off to a nearby park bench (classy as ever) and forked as much as possible onto each white plastic tine. Suya is officially my new takeaway of choice. Okay maybe not ultimately more than jerk but there are similarities; the chilli, ginger and garlic are there but it’s the ground peanuts that take this off in a different direction. Once you’ve chosen your meat from the selection of beef, goat, gizzards, chicken, lamb, fish or er, ‘crocodile/shark’, they sprinkle some of the extra meat rub on top. It’s like a soft-hot smoke bomb going off in your mouth.

The portions are enormous; we paid £5.75 each and neither of us finished. If I had one criticism I suppose I could say that it looked a bit of a mess, but then this is street food. It’s all about the flavour and a wise eye and greedy appetite will see its beauty. Their website claims that “many publications” have dubbed them the ‘African MacDonald’s’ but I think this gives the wrong impression. It’s fast food, yes but 100% genuine and it’s got guts. It’s classic Peckham, let’s face it.

Obalende Suya Express
43 Peckham High Street
London SE15
Tel: 020 7703 7033

Obalende Suya on Urbanspoon

17 comments » | Barbecue, Food From The Rye, Meat, Peckham, Street Food

A mighty pie

August 8th, 2010 — 9:17pm

You can’t say you haven’t thought about it these past few days. A few spots of drizzle and it’s pie o’clock.

One thing I didn’t expect to find myself making though was a vegetarian pie. It’s inspired by the Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina and the filling is a deeply savoury mixture of roasted artichokes, crème fraiche, eggs, cheese and spinach. I just can’t get enough spinach into my body at the moment and it’s so darn cheap in Peckham; 3 or 4 huge bunches for just 1 of your shiny quids – that’s about 400g  of spinach once you’ve trimmed the stalks and it’s ready to use. I cast my eye over the sorry looking shelves in Tesco Express yesterday for comparison – £1.40 for 260g of baby leaves in an inflated plastic bag. What a rip. It’s baby spinach yes, but I prefer the mature, ballsy stuff to be honest.

One thing that doesn’t come cheap however, is a decent egg. I used Clarence Court eggs for The Big Lunch and I’ve developed a bit of a habit; Cotswold Legbars are my favourite ‘old breed’ with their rough textured, pastel-blue shells and rich amber yolks. This recipe uses a lot: 6 in the filling mix, 4 on top. They set the filling as well as enrich it though, so you can cut a slice without everything oozing out. I wanted the mixture to be quite coarse but absent mindedly puréed the lot. It didn’t matter, the result was a pleasant light texture.

So it’s not a traditional torta, but it is a very tasty variation. Usually, the pie contains ricotta but I used crème fraiche and a bit of grated cheddar because well, that’s what I had. It’s amazing really, just how satisfying this pie is. I lay in bed one night and seriously considered getting up in the wee hours for a nibble.

The olive oil pastry is rolled out very thin and arranged in layers – traditionally 33, to represent the number of years that Christ supposedly lived. There was no way I was doing that many layers (coming from a woman who skins chickpeas) and anyway, I can’t imagine it being particularly pleasant to eat. I managed 5 or 6, and felt rather chuffed about it, particularly because they were clearly distinguishable in the cooked pie. My recipe uses 8 tablespoons of olive oil, which I’m not sure is much in the way of fat in pastry-land, and yet it’s very silky. A keeper.

We ate indecently large wedges with a simple tomato and onion salad; perfectly ripe fruits layered with red and spring onions, drizzled with good balsamic and olive oil, salted and peppered. I never thought it possible, but this pie was every bit as satisfying as a meaty version.

Torta Pasqualina (to make a more classic torta, substitute the crème fraiche and cheddar cheese with ricotta and some Parmesan if you have it).

This fills a 23cm spring form cake tin.

800g spinach (this is the equivalent of 6 large bunches bought in the mighty Peckham)
200g crème fraiche
A large handful of large cheddar cheese
1 massive onion, chopped fairly small
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large handful (about 30g) flat leaf parsley
250g roasted artichokes from a jar
10 eggs

For the pastry

660g plain (all purpose) flour
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, for glazing
About 230ml cold water

First, make the pastry. Combine the flour, oil and salt in large bowl. Gradually add the water and mix to form a dough that is fairly stiff. Turn it out out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes then transfer to a bowl, cover and leave it for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Allow the spinach to wilt down in a dry pan then allow to cool and squeeze out as much water as you can. Soften the chopped onion gently in a tablespoon of olive oil for about 10 minutes, then add the finely chopped garlic and artichokes for a few minutes longer, stirring regularly. Combine this mixture with the parsley, creme fraiche, cheese and 6 of the eggs. You can do this in a blender but do remember to pulse not blend! Season heavily with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 220C

Brush the tin with olive oil and divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece out very thinly on a lightly floured surface so that they are large enough to fit the pan. I used 6 layers on the bottom and 4 on top and brushed each layer with olive oil before adding the next. Add your filling, then make 4 indentations in the top and crack in the other 4 eggs. If you feel there is too much white you can get rid of some by letting some run off as if you were separating the egg.

Add your pastry layers to the top then crimp the sides and brush the whole pie with beaten egg. Bake the pie for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It should be golden brown all over.

16 comments » | Eggs, Food From The Rye, Lunchbox, Main Dishes, Pastry, Picnic, Pies, Vegetables

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