Archive for October 2010

Nargisi kofta curry

October 31st, 2010 — 10:38am

Every so often I have a ‘curry day’ where I spend the entire day cooking curries, sides and numerous yoghurt based accompaniments like pachadis and raitas, because I am obsessed with yoghurt. I can’t remember where I first heard about this curry but I knew immediately I must have it because the koftas are basically like lamby scotch eggs simmered in a curry sauce, which also has yoghurt in it.

The eggs are hard-boiled, wrapped with a mixture of minced lamb, puréed onion and garlic, fried and then simmered in a masala sauce.  The slightly sour, spiced yoghurt mixture is a perfect contrast against the rich protein bombs that are the koftas – boy, are they filling. We could only manage 1 each with all the other dishes and I wondered if quail’s eggs might be good instead of hen’s; a bit more bite size if a little more fiddly.

An amazing curry though; who doesn’t want egg wrapped in meat in spicy sauce? You don’t? Please leave.

Nargisi Kofta Curry (a recipe was kindly sent to me by Maunika, but I couldn’t resist playing around with it).

For the koftas

4 eggs
250g minced lamb
1 medium onion, blended to a paste
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Flour, for dusting the koftas prior to frying

For the masala

2 medium onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
8 tablespoons natural yoghurt
Fresh coriander, to serve

Groundnut oil, for frying

Hard boil the eggs by putting them in a small saucepan, cover them with water, bring to the boil and then let bubble for about 6 minutes. Remove them from the water, put them in a bowl, cover them with cold water and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the rest of the kofta ingredients together (not the flour) very well in a bowl. It is easiest to use your hands for mixing the meat. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, remove their shells. Divide the meat mixture into four then wrap each egg in the meat. An easy way of doing this is to spread the meat out in an oval shape on a piece of clingfilm, place the egg in the middle, then draw the clingfilm up around the sides of the egg. Make sure all the meat is sealed so there are no gaps where the egg is showing then roll each one in a little flour.

Heat a 1cm depth of groundnut oil in a heavy based pan then fry your koftas, turning them gently, until golden on all sides. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

To make the sauce, soften the onions in a 3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan until soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring. Add the tomato paste and spices, then mix well and fry until the oil starts to separate from the masala. Add 250ml water and allow to cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the yoghurt a tablespoon at a time. Add the koftas back to the pan, return to a low heat and cook gently for a few minutes, carefully turning the koftas over in the sauce to ensure they are heated through. Scatter with fresh chopped coriander and serve.

24 comments » | Curry, Eggs, Main Dishes, Meat

Al’s, Peckham

October 29th, 2010 — 1:37pm

[Al's has sadly closed. I don't know why].

There is a group called Peckham Vision which is dedicated to improving Peckham town centre. One of the ways they propose to do this is by advising local shops on appearance – product arrangement, signs, layout etc. Walking into Peckham is like walking into a giant jumble sale; stock is stacked in precarious towers – yams on popcorn machines on washing baskets on yams on bags of rice on yams on yams, with a phone unlocking shop wedged in at the side. While I agree there is a lot traders could do to smarten up and make themselves more appealing to the masses, I want to plead that we keep the higgledy piggledy arrangement and delegation of space. You can find brilliant things in unlikely places and personally, I relish the adventure; the lady I buy most of my decorated plates from, for example, trades from an old garage; bars, artists’ studios and restaurants squeeze under railway arches and now there’s Al, selling his Caribbean food from a tiny cramped passageway.

Alvin and his partner Zeena opened their business just a couple of weeks ago and they could be easily missed amongst the bustle of Rye Lane but my jerk-dar is highly sensitive, and I was in there faster than you can say ‘curry goat with rice and peas, plantain and a side of ackee, please’.

It’s amazing what people can do with a little fire in their belly – into that space Al has arranged a gas ring, a grill, a prep table, a fridge and by the time he and Zeena are in there too, there’s room for a person to stand and place and order, or you can call ahead and he’ll have it ready. Signs are strung up over the front, because there’s no door or window to speak of.

At the moment you can buy jerk lamb, chicken, rice and peas and salad but soon Al will start making curry goat and other traditional dishes. Zeena makes gorgeous fresh fruit juices at the ‘juice station’ (a shelf in the corner) and soon she’ll be selling her cakes, too. They tell me they’ve decided to start small and build up slowly, but twice I went down there and they’d sold out of everything. A good sign.

Jerk chicken was moist and coated with a thick, well-spiced marinade rather than wet-glazed like that of nearby competitor Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre. My favourite thing about Al’s though, is the gravy. A rich, brown stewed onion mixture which he ladles over your rice and peas before topping it with the meat. It’s sweet and addictive, tasting of the bottom of roasting pans and caramelised things. My only criticism is that the jerk isn’t very spicy, but then not everyone wants it so; variety is good and there’s always hot sauce.

Al and Zeena are so welcoming, that you’ll go away feeling like you’ve made new friends. He greeted me with outstretched arms and a beaming smile last time I was there, asking after my boyfriend too, who wasn’t. Al’s sums up everything I love about Peckham: the randomness, the sense of fun, the food and more often than not, the people. There’s a raw energy in the air here, which comes from characters like Al and Zeena, who believe in the value of the area and work with its idiosyncrasies, not against them. Let’s keep the heart of Peckham pumping.

[Edit: Al's has now closed, I do not know why. I hope he has moved premises as he was doing so well and selling out daily].

Al’s Caribbean Food
Umm, well it’s about two doors down from Khan’s Bargain Ltd. on Rye Lane, near the station. If you come out of the station, turn right and cross over the road, you will find it.
I’ll update this with a phone number when I next see Al.

8 comments » | Caribbean Food, Food From The Rye, Peckham, Restaurant Reviews, Street Food

Squid, pork and clam stew

October 25th, 2010 — 9:12pm

When on holiday in Spain, my mates and I bought a packet of jamon off-cuts; the stubby pieces from the end of a leg of ham which are no good for carving but better (we presumed) for slow cooked dishes, like stews. We didn’t have time to use them while there due to the sheer, greedy quantity of other food we’d bought but as they would keep well, I brought them back and made a promise to cook something at a later date. Inspiration came from a squid dish we’d eaten in a local restaurant in L’Escala – tender rings in a rich, reduced tomato sauce. I wanted to re-create it and, as ever, considered what would happen if I added some pig.

I fried the off-cuts until the fat melted then used that as a base for a tomato, red pepper and smoked paprika sauce, cooked down very slowly for 3 hours or more. It’s a weekend job, so I made a big batch and shoved some in the freezer. After that, it’s just a case of simmering the squid until tender. I also added some clams last minute because I love the combination of shellfish and pork. To finish, a picada, Catalan-style: crushed garlic, breadcrumbs and toasted ground almonds which thicken the sauce and add punch. A sprinkle of parsley, a wedge of lemon and serve. We mopped it up with torn chunks of a crusty white loaf, washed it down with Brew Dog beers and re-acquainted ourselves with the level of smugness we’d felt while on holiday.

Squid, pork and clam stew

For the base tomato sauce

1 packet of jamon off-cuts (sorry, I can’t remember the quantity but I reckon about 200g. Chorizo would make a good substitute)
5 tomatoes
2 red peppers
1 large stick of celery
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 heaped teaspoon sugar

Begin by skinning the tomatoes. Cover them with boiling water then wait for about 5 minutes until their skins start to split. You can then take them out and peel the skins off.

Finely chop the peppers, celery and onions (it’s worth making the effort to chop them very finely). When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, roughly chop them. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or groundnut oil to a heavy based pan then add the pork bits until the fat has melted, stirring often over a medium-low heat.

When the fat has melted, add the vegetables, smoked paprika and sugar, bring to a simmer then reduce to the lowest heat. Put the lid on and let cook very gently for 3 hours if possible.

For the rest of the stew

2 medium squid
2 handfuls clams
A couple of tablespoons chopped parsley
500ml vegetable or fish stock
Lemons, to serve
Bread, to serve

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 slice dry white bread, made into crumbs
50g almonds, lightly toasted

Make the picada by toasting the almonds in a dry pan: move them around often over a medium heat until lightly golden. Grind them to a paste in a pestle and mortar. Mix them very well with the garlic and breadcrumbs.

When the tomato sauce is ready, heat your stock and add it to the tomato sauce. Add the squid, then simmer until the squid is tender, about 40 minutes. While the squid is cooking, clean your clams by submerging them in salted water for half an hour; this is so they spit out all the grit and other stuff you don’t want to eat. Drain them and add to the sauce for a few minutes, until their shells pop open. Add a tablespoon of picada, stir it in then taste and decide if you want any more. I found a tablespoon to be enough.

Ladle the stew into bowls, then scatter the parsley over and serve with lemon wedges, and the bread.

9 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat, Seafood, Shellfish, Soups, Stews

Wham bam thank you SPAM, for inviting me to judge

October 21st, 2010 — 8:33am

People, I have arrived. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to judge the SPAM Cook of the Year competition, along with TV chef Phil Vickery, a really chatty lady from er, Chat magazine and a ‘representative’ of Hormel Foods (the people who make the SPAM).

It’s very easy to take the piss out of SPAM. It’s chopped pork and ham – in a can. It has a funny sounding name and it consists of what is commonly known as ‘mystery meat’ – no-one is ever sure which bits of pig are in it or where those bits came from.

You know what though? I rather like it, once a year. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or guilty pleasure. Probably both. I like a slice fried and served Chinese-style over rice with kow choi.

Asian flavours work very well with SPAM. In his piece for Word of Mouth, Oliver Thring talks about the Asian fondness for the luncheon meat, which he puts down to SPAM’s “porky saltiness” and “familiarity with slimy, rubbery textures.”  He was right, too, in suggesting that’s what led me to make the SPAM mi (it’s a banh mi with SPAM), presumably as it led Su-Lin to drizzle kecap manis (sweetened soy) over hers and Lizzie to make her SPAM ramen noodles.

Amazingly, there was only 1 finalist at the Cook of The Year Awards who had the same idea. There were 6 finalists in total, previously picked by someone who remained nameless; the people at Hormel perhaps, who knows. I only saw the recipes 5 minutes prior to the start of the cook off and a quick glance revealed that this was going to be an (ahem) interesting afternoon.

Some of the entries looked quite promising, while others were just a little bit scary, quite frankly. SPAM mousse anyone?

It was clear that all had put a lot of effort into their entries. One guy, who created without doubt the funniest recipe of the day, had been practising his ‘SPAM box’ for ages in order to perfect it. His cheeky, beer-addled student brain had come up with the idea of hollowing out a block of SPAM into two separate compartments; he filled one side with an egg  and the other with baked beans. The box was literally still shaped like the tin, with a little spammy lid concealing the contents. He served it with a mushroom, black pudding and grilled tomatoes. He didn’t win, but we did decide to give him ‘special mention’ for making us smile.

The winner was Shannon Stenning who was put forward for the competition by her supervisor at catering college. Her SPAM rosti with a poached egg and hollandaise was actually, honestly, really tasty. We just kept digging our forks in for more – a sure sign that she was the worthy winner.

I’d always regarded SPAM as a comedy ingredient; a dirty secret; a hangover food, like eating a Pepperami or “pig snack” as my friend’s daughter calls them. It’s interesting though, to consider the different ways in which SPAM is perceived around the world. In Hawaii of course, they worship the stuff and in South Korea it’s considered a gourmet food. The contestants last week were also taking the SPAM seriously and because of that, it was only fair that I did, too.

Well done to Shannon who won a luxury 2 night stay for 2 people plus a spa treatment from Oxford Hotels and an ipod Touch. She slightly burnt her rosti but it didn’t matter and extra marks were awarded for the way she brought back that hollandaise when it split. If you had said to me that I would one day be eating SPAM and hollandaise and really quite liking it, I would have laughed you out of town. Always keep an open mind, kids because you never know.

And as for runner up prizes and freebies, it’s amazing how many things you can write the word ‘SPAM’ on. I already had a SPAM apron, spatula and recipe book (stop sniggering) but I am now the proud owner of a SPAMdle. That’s a candle made by pouring wax into an empty tin of SPAM. Seems like Shannon wasn’t the only winner, eh?

14 comments » | Cooking Competitions

The Sportsman, Seasalter

October 19th, 2010 — 8:18am

Will you travel for a good meal? I’m sure you can guess that I will. Be it schlepping out to West London for some sushi or planning entire holidays around food, there had better be a decent feed at the end of it or I ain’t going.

I was supposed to visit The Sportsman last year but I’d finished my job a month earlier, was broke and ended up sobbing into my P45 as I saw my friends go off without me. A year later and things are almost back on an even keel. This meal was a present from my friend, to congratulate me on getting a new job – one that I really wanted.

We grabbed a cab from Faversham station, which is necessary, unless you want to drive. I’d heard that the pub was remote, but it took next to no time to arrive, and before we knew it we found ourselves waiting outside for staff to take pity on us – the first customers of the day. We’d pre-booked the tasting menu (you have to) for 9 people and settled in to let them show us the best the area has to offer, for this is what food at The Sportsman is all about.

Nothing pleases me more than a menu that starts with a bit of pig. When a pile of warm pork scratchings arrived, my no-drinking rule for the day went right out the window and I ordered a pint of Whitstable Bay as fast as possible. A crunchy piece of swine, a swill of beer. Repeat. Pickled herring pieces were also right up my strasse; firm, glistening meat and an acidity that shooed away any trace of fat from the scratchings. I was prepped for the oysters to come.

Two batches of natives followed in quick succession; the first, raw with a pea and ham combination and the second, wrapped with bacon and cooked: angels on horseback. Usually I don’t really dig a cooked oyster but these were the first I’ve ever enjoyed. Probably something to do with the pig.

The bread and butter: outstanding. A focaccia, a perfectly crusted white and the treacly, dark soda loaf which was one of the best breads I’ve ever eaten. I slathered it with their home-made unpasteurised butter and washed it down with a pint of  Shepherd Neame ‘Late Red’ ale at the suggestion of the waitress; “the beer is only available for 3 months at a time” she told me – it was spicy and autumnal, a brilliant match. She’d noticed that I enjoy my beer and made a suggestion which was absolutely spot on. Full marks.

A slip sole in local smoked salt and espelette pepper butter was almost perfect. The flesh cooked just so, the seasoned butter oozing amber over the plate. It was the prettiest food I’ve eaten in a very long time and so elegant that it made me sit up straight and pay attention to every last mouthful.

The owner and chef, Stephen Harris, enthused about the ‘beautiful seabass’ that had come in that morning. “Huge” he gestured with his hands, “this big.” We were served fillets of the mighty beast with a smoked herring roe sauce which wasn’t much cop in the looks department but tasted of the sea. The bass was a touch over-cooked, which was a shame; I find I rarely eat a perfectly cooked piece of seabass.

Breaded breast of lamb was a nibble, a single slice per person – I wished it was a course. The fatty meat rendered down, crumbed, crisped and served with a sweet mint sauce into which I found myself dunking scraps of stray white bread, pretending they were lamb breast.

Other highlights: a pear lollipop with ginger cake-milk, like a pear flavoured mini-milk crossed with a dip-dab minus the sherbert. With me? Okay, well everything should be dipped in cake milk. A creamy froth, like a Jamaica ginger cake milk-shake. I drained the dregs as if I were doing a shot.

Then a sugared plum came with ‘kernel ice cream’ – the plum kernels taste like almonds, and with the booze soaked cake alongside it had the flavours of an autumnal Bakewell tart.

I love what The Sportsman are trying to do. Un-fussed food, as perfectly cooked as possible but with the imagination and sense of fun that is so often missing for me in ‘high-end’ restaurants, or indeed in many restaurants, come to think about it. Some of our party remarked that the kitchen seemed off-kilter; I don’t know, I’ve not been before. What I can say is that I had a very relaxed, delicious and memorable meal – one that was definitely worth travelling for.

The Sportsman tasting menu costs £55 per person, which is extremely good value. To see the rest of my photos from the meal including their own cured ham; a mussel and bacon chowder and a roast rump and shoulder of lamb, go to my Flickr.

The Sportsman
Faversham Road
Kent CT5 4BP
Tel: 01227 273370

13 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Potato, caramelised onion and L’Escala anchovy

October 18th, 2010 — 7:38pm

I couldn’t decide what to call this. A ‘bake’, perhaps. It’s not a tart because it has no base, nor a pie, because it has no pastry. It’s not a Jansson’s temptation because it has onions and rosemary in it. In the end I just gave up and listed some ingredients.

There are layers of potato, sweet caramelised onions with garlic and rosemary and plump L’Escala anchovies, all melding together with the help of some cream. The top is burnished gold; all curled, crunchy edges and teasing chew. The inside is soft and slightly gooey; a little cream oozing out between the layers as you press with a fork.

We ate slices with a big green salad but it struck me that the dish would be a perfect accompaniment to steak. Literally perfect. As if there isn’t enough calories on the plate already. I lined the dish with butter too, by the way. No messing about. All the richness of potato with salty anchovy, rosemary and garlic – it’s screaming for a bone-in rib-eye.

Obviously you don’t need to use L’Escala anchovies for this, but do try to find the silvery fillets packed in jars, as those brown tinned ones will only disappoint.

Potato, caramelised onion and anchovy bake

You could use any size tin, as it’s just a case of layering. Mine was 22cm.

1 jar good quality anchovies packed in olive oil
6-8 large potatoes sliced as thinly as possible
2 large onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
142ml pot single cream
Butter, for greasing the dish
Salt and pepper

Begin by caramelising your onions. Heat the oil from the anchovy jar and add the onions, then sweat them down over a very low heat for about an hour, or until completely soft and caramelised. Add the garlic and rosemary for a few minutes at the end of cooking, stirring often.

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease the dish well with butter.

To layer up the dish, begin with a layer of potatoes, overlapping them slightly. Follow this with a layer of anchovies (about 4 fillets), then a layer of onions. Spoon over a few tablespoons of cream, spreading it around as evenly as you can. Season with black pepper but be careful with salt as the anchovies are salty. If you do end up with those brown tinned fillets, don’t use any salt at all.

Repeat this until the dish is full. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crisp.

12 comments » | Fish, Lunchbox, Main Dishes, Seafood, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

October 15th, 2010 — 1:08pm

The evenings are drawing in. As we approached Wuli Wuli at 7pm, it was proper dark and the black restaurant exterior was hardly visible. Perhaps that’s why it was so empty. Or perhaps it’s just that the place is new. Whatever, it really shouldn’t be so.

The menu is divided into two sections: the first half your commonplace Cantonese style and the second ‘Chinese Style’, full of Sichuan dishes. We completely ignored the first half and got right down to the business of ordering a round of tea and too much food.

The Chinese do wonderful things with cucumbers. You’ll find a cold cuke dish on any decent Sichuan menu and at Wuli Wuli this came in the form of  ‘smacked cucumbers with garlic sauce’. It seemed that the cuke had been de-seeded as usual but then some of the centre added back for a smashed-up look. The sauce initially shocked with its sweetness but became addictive. Crystals of sugar nestled here and there amongst the chunks of vegetable and spicy orange garlicky oil. Once of my favourite dishes of the night.

‘Silkthread’ noodles seemed to be ‘Ants Climbing a Tree‘ in disguise. At first I didn’t notice the sauce at the bottom of the bowl and the mouthful I dug out from the side seemed bland. Once thoroughly mixed, they had a bit of kick and and a pleasing bite, although I still found them a little dull, if I’m honest.

Our claypot dish of lamb brisket with beancurd skin was tender as expected; we grasped slippery pieces between chopsticks, sucking and teasing out the good stuff. The gravy was rich and a bit one-dimensional, but ultimately comforting. It’s a relief for the palate to have a plainer dish on the table.

Dry fried green beans weren’t the spiciest or most blistered example I’ve ever had but provided some freshness and enough green to keep the table looking healthy.

My favourite dish of the evening was by far the aubergines with minced pork. The aubergine pieces were decadently deep-fried resulting in the silkiest texture, with a crunch from the outer batter. The sauce was rich with pork. Don’t ever go to a Sichuan restaurant and not order an aubergine dish. It would be pure madness.

On the whole, a good addition to Camberwell. The dishes were a lot tamer spice-wise than other restaurants such as my beloved Chilli Cool but as my mates pointed out, we didn’t order any dishes advertised as particularly spicy. Still, I do expect to leave a Sichuan meal with my nose streaming and the fear of the following morning in the back of my mind. The place was a little smoothed over and with the split-half menu they are obviously trying to please everyone but part of me wishes they wouldn’t. What I love about places like Chilli Cool is the chaotic atmosphere and disposable tablecloths. At the end of our meal at Wuli Wuli I couldn’t see how much mess I’d made, which disappointed me somewhat.

Minor grumbles out of the way, it’s a decent little place and as it’s local to me, I’ll go back. The service is very sweet and because they’ve just opened, they’re offering 15% off the total bill. Had we not had the discount the meal would have cost £35.50 for 3 people to eat 5 dishes with rice and unlimited tea. Can’t say fairer than that.

Wuli Wuli
15 Camberwell Church Street
Tel: 0207 708 5024

Wuli Wuli on Urbanspoon

6 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

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