Category: Bread


Steamed Chinese Sandwich Bread (Mantou)

September 20th, 2014 — 3:10pm

Pork Belly Steamed Bun from Yum Bun

Baozi from Yum Bun

I have an intense, borderline unhealthy affection for those Chinese sandwich buns peddled by the likes of Yum Bun and Bao London; there’s just something about that pudgy steamed bread that is so addictive. Yes, I adore a sourdough with a crackly crust and a chew that could shave inches off the jowls of a bloodhound but there’s a lot to be said for the super soft and doughy. In Northern China they have nailed this texture in the form of the mantou, which when filled is called a baozi. I can’t get enough of them, so last weekend I went to a cookery class at School of Wok in Covent Garden to learn some tricks which would hopefully enhance my buns.

The Chinese use much whiter (bleached) flour, which is banned in the UK. A lot of places in Chinatown still use it however as there’s a legal loophole somewhere along the importing chain. You’ll see that the buns I’ve made have a yellow tinge to them, yet those that you see in restaurants are snowy white; the latter are mostly made in Chinatown with the imported flour, and then supplied to the restaurants. Apparently it’s also possible to buy the flour for home use, but recently there’s been some kind of shortage. If the yellow colour really bothers you, then add a tiny splash of rice vinegar to the water when you steam your buns, and that will whiten them slightly.

The dough is a bit of a bugger to work with, and I break out in a sweat kneading it until smooth; the idea is to work the gluten so that it becomes nice and stretchy. When it’s done you should be able to push your fingers gently into the surface of the dough without it cracking straight away. Once risen it’s rolled out into an oval shape, then oiled and folded over a chopstick; the oiling is important to stop the dough sticking together during steaming.

Mantou

Sandwich buns resting in the steaming trays

We try steaming them two ways for comparative purposes, firstly in a bamboo steamer over a wok full of water, and secondly in a snazzy steam oven which I am fascinated by. The steam oven has more of an all engulfing heat, obviously, which surrounds the buns and cooks them evenly – best for the sandwich bread. The bamboo steamers are over direct heat, which makes the dough more likely to crack as it cooks – this is desirable when cooking buns like char siu bao, when you want that classic split-open top.

Red Cooked Pork

Red cooked pork with fermented tofu

After 8 minutes we had perfectly steamed, if not quite perfectly shaped mantou, ready to be rammed with pork braised in a fermented tofu sauce, a quick cucumber pickle (recipes below), lettuce and Japanese mayo. I ate three and felt the oof; despite their fluffy appearance they are incredibly filling and considering that we also made char siu and custard buns…is someone had pushed me out of the door I could’ve rolled to the bus stop.

The steamed bun class is the most technical of all the classes at School of Wok, and I learned a huge amount, including some dim sum techniques which Jeremy, our teacher, said experts generally refuse to demonstrate until people have had much more experience. He’s all about making this kind of cooking more accessible, is our Jez. The class is very relaxed, friendly and fun, and there were only three of us there, so everyone got lots of attention (I believe the maximum class size is 8). I was on the course with two young guys who wanted to start a street food stall selling bao, having made them only once before. Considering their limited knowledge of cooking, and the fact they were both knackered by lunch time, I’m not sure how well that venture is going to work out. One of them did say however that the class was the first time he’d EVER enjoyed cooking, which is a damn good advert for Jeremy’s classes, if perhaps not the foundation for a successful street food business…

School of Wok
61 Chandos Place
London
WC2N 4HG

The steamed bun fun class runs from 10.30am-4.30pm and costs £130. I was invited to the review the class. 

Steamed Sandwich Buns (Mantou) (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

530g medium gluten wheat flour
5g dried yeast mixed with 100g warm water to activate
50g milk
3 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
120g water
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp baking powder
Flavourless oil

Activate the yeast and then add to rest of the ingredients and knead well.

Allow to rest in a warm place covered with a damp cloth for 2 hours, or until the
dough has doubled in size.

Just before shaping, add 1tsp baking powder to the dough and knead well.

Roll the dough into a cylinder, then cut pieces off this, and roll out into oval shapes. Lightly oil the top of the dough, then put a chopstick at the half way mark, fold over and remove. Allow to rest in a warm place, under a damp cloth, for 30 minutes or until 1.5 times the size.

Line a bamboo steamer with greaseproof paper and steam for 8 minutes. Do not lift the lid in the first 4 minutes.

Braised Pork Belly in Fermented Tofu (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

300g Pork belly
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 cube of fermented bean curd
1 tbsp fermented bean curd liquid
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
1 tbsp black vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
Roughly 450ml hot water

Finely chop the garlic and place in a small prep bowl. Using the base of a teaspoon, crush the fermented bean curd into the sauce until a
thick paste is formed. Mix the soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar and sesame oil together.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan to high heat. Add the garlic to the pot and stir.

Turn the heat down to a medium heat and then add the fermented bean curd paste.

Sear the pork belly piece on all sides in a separate pan, ensuring the skin is well
sealed and golden brown. Once seared, place the pork into the saucepan and stir until the whole piece is
covered in sauce.

Add the soy sauce/black vinegar & sugar mixture to the pork and bubble through for
2-3 minutes. Now turn heat down to low.

Turn the pork over so that the skin is touching the bottom of the saucepan. Pour enough hot water over the pork to just about cover. Stir well and then cover with lid. Simmer on low heat for 1 ½ hours – 2 hours until the pork is soft and succulent and full of colour. Turn occasionally to allow sauce to absorb into the whole piece.

Cucumber & Spring Onion Pickle (recipe courtesy of School of Wok)

3 spring onions, finely sliced into strips
½ cucumber, finely sliced
Pickling liquid
4 tbsp honey
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp red rice vinegar
2 tbsp hot water
15 crushed sichuan pepper corns

Combine everything and let sit for half an hour or so.

4 comments » | Bread, Pickles, Sandwiches

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

July 23rd, 2014 — 1:59pm

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

Since returning from an Istanbul > Beirut > Istanbul jaunt way back in April, I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of recipes I want to re-create. Despite writing about lahmacun, yoghurt with celeriac, liver and onions Turkish stylee, and Turkish lamb meatballs with rhubarb, I am in no way through dealing with Istanbul, and I’ve barely started on you, Beirut, posting only about the marvellous man’oushe.

This recipe was inspired by a restaurant in Istanbul that actually, we didn’t much like. I think that happened once in our entire trip. It’s in Beyoglu, which seems to be the trendy bit of Istanbul. It’s also the area I enjoyed the least. It felt a bit young and hip and I dunno, I guess I’m really not the latter, because it’s just not the kind of atmosphere I enjoy when I’m exploring a new city. Is that weird? Maybe that’s weird. It is? How dare you! I’m very cool, it’s just that a thousand spaghetti-strapped women and block print embellished denim-ed men leaning around in bars playing Europop isn’t my idea of a good time. That’s a really unfair picture of Beyoglu in general, but perfectly accurate when it comes to the surroundings of this restaurant. The staff thought they were THE SHIT, too, prancing around like the restaurant floor was a fashion show or something. Totally aware that’s the kind of thing my mum said when I asked if I could have those high-heeled patent sling backs for my first year at Big School, but anyway.

They did one good thing, and that was to introduce us to adana kebabs rolled up into cigar shapes inside very thin bread. This is brilliant because you get the contrast between crisp bread and soft meat, but also because all the juiciness from the lamb soaks into the bread. This one dish made the whole sorry experience worthwhile. There’s also the opportunity to roll all sorts of other goodies inside with the meat of course, which I duly did…ranging from yoghurt, to feta, to spring onions. There was something else too but I’m not prepared to admit it.

It took a bit of experimenting to get the recipe right. Although the meat remained moist (there is a shit load of lovely fatty lamb in there after all…) they just weren’t QUITE juicy enough, so in the end I decided to cook the kebabs, before spreading the bread (lavash, by the way, it’s appropriately thin) very sparsely with some of the meat mixture, plonking the ‘bab onto it, rolling up, then commencing crisping. It does weird you out a bit, putting cooked meat on top of  raw, but it’s only for a moment and anyway, just get on with it.

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

The other major change I’ve made with my adana is to add some Georgian ajika paste so this is a little bit fusion I suppose but come on, Turkey and Georgia are bordering countries. Ajika is a rather fierce chilli paste, which some dunce rather dopily describes on Wikipedia as ‘vindaloo strength’. It’s pretty hot, basically, but with an incredible flavour. It’s a magic ingredient, the kind of thing you end up chucking into all sorts of dishes. I’ll post my own recipe for it here soon.

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls

BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls (makes about 6 kebabs, depending on size obviously)

400g fatty lamb mince, 150g lean lamb mince (such as neck)
1/2 onion
1/2 red pepper
1 tablespoon ajika paste
2 cloves garlic
Few pinches salt
Lavash bread
Yoghurt (optional)
Feta (optional)
Spring onions, finely sliced (optional)

Blitz the lean mince into a blender with the onion, pepper, ajika and garlic. Add the fatty mince. Season highly with salt and give the meat a really good mix, kneading it with your hands almost like bread for a few minutes. Refrigerate for an hour or so if you can before shaping onto soaked wooden skewers (the kebabs will be easier to turn if you use two per kebab), then refrigerate again. Reserve about a tablespoon of meat per kebab, for smearing on the flatbreads later.

When ready to cook, prep your BBQ, and when the coals are covered in white ash, sling those ‘babs on, they won’t take long – 5 mins each side. Don’t try to turn them until they’ve built up a crust or else they wills stick. Cut a piece of lavash large enough to encase each kebab (remember you’re rolling it up), smear this with a tablespoon of the reserved meat, then plonk your cooked ‘bab on top and add any cheese, yoghurt, spring onions you fancy and roll it up. Slap back onto the grill until crisp on each side.

I like to serve these with extra garlic yoghurt and huge plates of herbs.

10 comments » | Barbecue, Bread, Cheese, Istanbul, Main Dishes, Meat

Cornish Sea Salt

July 3rd, 2014 — 1:15pm

Cornwall

“I’ll never remember all this” I thought as I was given a guided tour of the Cornish Sea Salt production site. The ‘operations director’, Philip Tanswell, was whipping us from point to point, explaining machinery and chemistry and…salty things, telling us how he couldn’t believe no-one else had thought to harvest Cornish sea salt. Personally, I think it’s more likely that people have had the idea, but after reading up on the production thought to themselves, ‘nah, bugger that’. I wish I could tell you how it’s harvested, I really do, but I can’t because the process was complicated, and the explanation of it full of words like ‘microfiltration’, sub-atomic particles’, exchanger twist flugelbinder’ and ‘flomboggle wangcharging maxalatron’. I may possibly have made some of those up. I also can’t tell you about much of the process however,  because Philip wants to keep it a secret, lest people steal his methods. The world of salt is competitive, it turns out, and things are said about both Maldon and Halen Mon which I want to repeat here but probably shouldn’t. Interesting, though. Veeeeery interesting.

In short, the way salt is made goes like this: when the sodium and chloride particles are bobbing about in the sea they are separately positively and negatively charged, but when they are processed, and they run out of space to do whatever they like, they attract each other, and become salt crystals. The Cornish Salt Company have a piece of kit related to this process which is unique and does…something. That’s the secret bit. The key with the whole business is to get the best shape to the crystals, you see. That’s what it’s all about. Oh, and the other biggie: water clarity. Cornish sea salt is made from a stretch of water off the coast of The Lizard, which is somewhere I remember whizzing through on many a childhood holiday (good pasty place out at Lizard point if I remember rightly?). Beneath the water is a big ol’ reef, and a dangerous one by the sounds of it: over 500 ship wrecks sit eerily under the water. It’s a marine protection zone with Grade A water, which means it’s um, really, really clean. The minerals in the clay around Lizard also make a difference to the uniqueness of the salt, as the area is different to rest of Cornwall, geologically speaking. It’s magnesium and calcium changes which make a difference to the way different salts taste, so some salts will be more sweet, some more salty.

Cornwall

There’s salt in there…

To come up with a recipe based around salt proved a little challenging at first because, well, everything has salt in it. These pitta chips may seem overly simple but trust me, they’re the kind of snack you start walking away from them turn back halfway through for another hit. I could go wild for a fistful or thirty right now. They’re really good when made with both the Cornish Sea Salt ‘Luxury Pepper’ and chilli mixes and of course just the regular salt flakes and they’re incredibly easy to make. I suppose they’re healthier than crisps too. What more do you want from me?!

Pitta Chips with Cornish Sea Salt

Salty Pitta Chips 

2-3 pitta bread (depending on size)
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon either Cornish Sea Salt Luxury Pepper blend or chilli blend

Heat oven to 200C. Cut the pitta chips into pieces, splitting some if you can, so they get extra thin and crisp. Mix the oil and salt then rub into the pitta pieces, making sure they’re evenly coated. Spread on a baking tray and cook for 7-10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Allow to cool and serve with some dippage, such as hummus.

See Cornish Sea Salt Website for stockists or to buy online

9 comments » | Bread, Nibbles, Snacks

Man’oushe in Beirut

June 25th, 2014 — 9:58am

Man'oushe stall in Beirut

Beirut is a city of contrasts, the most striking being that of new wealth against a backdrop of quite obviously recent civil war. People parade barely healed plastic surgery around bullet pucked buidings. I was sad to read yesterday about a suicide bombing – the conflict in Syria is shaking the city once again. We spent a peaceful few days there in April, thankfully, which wasn’t nearly long enough. It’s hard to get to grips with as a city. I think my partner in travel, crime, eating etc. has captured the place extremely well in a post he wrote on his blog and so I shall quote him here.

I’m looking at ‘happy cookies’, imported New Zealand lamb, organic salmon fillets (neatly vacuum packed) and I’m pretty certain I saw at least one person selling cup cakes. There were definitely chocolate brownies. Souk el Tayeb, the Beirut farmer’s market is an oddity. There’s something a bit wrong about the way that the small-scale agricultural produce of a country that still has a large amount of said small-scale agriculture is being packaged up and sold back to itself (at a hefty premium of course).

We’re in the main Beirut souk, where marble walls glisten; well-groomed Arab men partake of oversized cigars whilst strolling with their families. On display are luxury watches, expensive fashion, and now, labneh balls preserved in oil, bright turnip pickles, and cheery Lebanese women rolling out balls of dough to slap on their dome shaped grills; applying oil and za’atar, pre-sliced white cheese and the occasional dollop of chilli before rolling up their man‘oushes. As with so many a sandwich glimpsed in the wild, the restraint is what first catches the eye; really no more than a couple of ingredients, the pungent tang of wild oregano providing more than enough flavour to interest.

A gaggle of children are painting plaster casts of Easter bunnies. Over the road stand soldiers, their rifles lazily slung over their shoulders, chatting disinterestedly with some members of the city police.

This is Beirut. It’s pretty fucking odd.

You can’t go anywhere unless you’re in a taxi, though none of the taxi drivers have the faintest clue where anything is. The constant switching between Arabic, French and English spellings renders street names next to useless. Drivers will stop two to three times to shout questions at passers by for even the shortest of journeys. I’m left baffled as to what anything costs by the need to try and work out parallel exchange rates between Sterling, Lebanese Pounds and Dollars. Change regularly arrives in mixed currency format. A $50 note and 14000LP thank you very much.

Dusk turns pleasant roads derelict and less inviting corners terrifying. Cars careen about with little thought to their own safety. Eight hours in the city and we’d already seen two accidents. It’s as if the collective memory of civil war has rendered the concept of automotive safety null and void. Who needs seat belts when everyone can remember the acrid smoke of suicide bombs? There’s a Ferrari stopped at the lights on our left, next to it pulls up a battered Honda motorbike. The Greek Orthodox Christians are streaming out of their churches candles held votive before them. Chanting echoes out of the ornate facades, mingling with the amplified wail of the Muezzin call to prayer and the omnipresent chorus of car horns.

Three hours later and midnight has transformed the louche atmosphere of the bars from lazy afternoon drinking to a frenzied Faliraki street sprawl; bad cocktails and bottles of beer, aggressive posing and pounding Euro pop. I argue with a lingering taxi driver over the cost of the return to our hotel. Curse that the bar is closed and go instead to corner shop next door. The owner, smoking at the counter sorts me a quarter bottle of Arak and some ice. I retreat to my room for bed. Exhausted.”

Man'oushe lady

Za'atar Smear

Man'oushe in Beirut

So yeah, that’s Beirut. At times a confusing and complicated place. The food however, is really something, and I came back to London significantly fatter. First up, these man’oushe, a Lebanese speciality. Yes, I am counting a rolled up flatbread as a sandwich, because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I bloody well like. I spotted the lady making these in the market and swooped in on her with the steely determination of a hawk hunting a mouse. She was perched next to a blistering hot dome, on a scorching day, slapping and scraping flat breads. They came painted green with za’atar, heavy with thyme and oregano and speckled with sesame. Superbly chewy, intense and rich with cheese. As ever though, there is more than one way to fill a flatbread, and I like to top my za’atar smear with pickles, labneh and herbs. The recipe below is from my sandwich book, 101 Sandwiches.

Man’oushe (from 101 Sandwiches, Dog n Bone Books, 2013)

Makes 8–10

For the flatbread:

500g plain flour
7g sachet easy-blend dried yeast
1.5 tsp sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
Generous 250ml warm water
1.5 tbsp olive oil

To assemble the sandwiches:

Za’atar (recipe here or use a ready made blend)
Olive oil
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
Red onion, finely chopped
Pickled turnips or other pickled vegetables, drained and sliced
Labneh or plain yoghurt (it is easy to make your own labneh – see below)
Ground sumac

To make the flatbread, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Gradually add the warm water, mixing until you have a soft dough. Knead for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, gradually adding the olive oil as you do so.

Rub a bowl with a little oil and place the dough in it. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours, until doubled in size. Once risen, gently knock back the dough and knead again for a few minutes. Divide the dough into 8–10 pieces, then roll out into flatbreads, each about 1/4 inch (5mm) thick. Cook the flatbreads, 1 or 2 at a time, in a hot, dry large skillet for about 3 minutes on each side, until brown spots appear in places. The cooked flatbreads can be kept warm in a low oven while you cook the remainder.

To assemble the sandwiches, mix some za’atar with a little olive oil to make it easier to spread and brush it onto each flatbread while still warm. Top with mint and parsley leaves, some chopped tomato and red onion and some sliced pickles, then dollop with labneh. Sprinkle with sumac, wrap and eat immediately.

Labneh Recipe:

To make your own labneh, just mix a good pinch of sea salt with a 500g tub of full-fat natural yoghurt, then wrap it in a piece of muslin, tie the top with string, hang it over a bowl and leave in a cool place for about 8 hours or overnight. Use the strained yoghurt or labneh as required. Any leftover labneh will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Shop in Beirut

7 comments » | 101 Sandwiches, Beirut, Bread, Markets, Sandwiches

Za’atar Flatbreads

November 10th, 2013 — 12:42am

I am a very bad author, because I have a serious Amazon habit. They just make it too freakin easy to go batshit mental on there. What with their suggestions and wish lists and things other people have bought together and oh, here’s a deal to get both at a special price. There’s the extremely dangerous ‘one click ordering’ and the stealthy Amazon Prime, which obviously, I have. They’ve made it all so easy, and now the stuff turns up before you’ve had a chance to remember you ordered it while drunk.

I struggled to carry my latest haul of no less than 8 fat cookery books home, in the rain, from the office, which is where Amazon delivered them because I forgot to change the address. Surely telepathic assessment of preferred delivery address is not far off? Anyway, amongst the spoils, a couple of Turkish numbers, from which I plucked this flatbread recipe. I needed something to do with the za’atar  you see, an option other than just eating it straight from the pot in such vast quantities that it makes my mouth pucker and sting.

It’s the house blend at Peckham Bazaar and it’s the best za’atar recipe ever. The word za’atar means ‘thyme’ in Arabic, and I generally find that shop bought blends are way too heavy on the herb; too many dusty green flecks, mixed with some sesame seeds and not enough sumac. This recipe contains poky Turkish chilli, and rose petals, which apart from adding a bit of Turkish delight fancy, also look the bomb. Salt is important too; proper, pyramid-crystallised sea salt and plenty of it.

Mixed with a bit of oil it’s ace smeared onto these breads. Now bear with me when I say they’re brilliant flatbreads because they’re all soft and er, bready. I just mean that they’re not tough and floury as a home made flat bread often can be. The recipe makes 12, which with hindsight was a dangerous move when I’m working at home alone all weekend. Not only does Amazon empty my bank account, it is also trying to make me fat. Don’t let me put you off buying my book from them though; it will cost you money but all the recipes in it are 100% calorie free. Fact.

You can also buy it direct from the publisher and in doing so side step a whole heap of problems. Ta da. 

Peckham Bazaar Za’atar

150g toasted sesame seeds
20g sea salt
30g sumac
30g red chilli flakes
30g dried thyme
15g dried oregano
1 tsp ras el hanout
1/2 teaspoon rose petals

Toast the sesame seeds either spread out on a baking tray in a low oven or in a dry pan. They will darken slightly in colour and smell all, well, toasted. Keep an eye on them. Allow them to cool and then mix with all the other ingredients.

Flat Breads (from Turkey: Recipes and Tales From the Road by Leanne Kitchen)

Makes 12 breads

1 teaspoon caster sugar
1.5 teaspoons dried yeast
600g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons salt

Olive oil and za’atar, for brushing the flat breads.

Mix the sugar with 100ml lukewarm water and add the yeast. Set aside until frothy. Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then add the yeast mixture. Combine into a dough, then knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

Cover with cling film and set aside until doubled in size (mine took an hour). Knock back the dough on a lightly floured surface then divide into 12 balls of equal size. Roll each out to a circle (about 9 inches) and cook in a dry frying pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes each side, until just coloured. In a small bowl, mix some za’atar with olive oil, just enough to lubricate matters slightly so you can smoosh it onto the bread. Give each a rub with the za’atar mix while still warm.

20 comments » | Bread

Georgia, I Adore Ya

February 2nd, 2013 — 1:23am

Last year I went to Georgia; a country I would never have considered visiting had I not been invited. As is often the way when one doesn’t expect these things, I completely fell in love with the place; the people, the culture, the wine and most of all, the food. Since then it’s been a mission to try and perfect recipes and also to seek out Georgian food in London. On the cooking front, khachapuri has been something of an obsession; it’s basically a cheese-stuffed bread, made with an incredibly salty Georgian cheese – we’re talking more salty than halloumi; being a complete and utter salt whore, I adored it. I lugged 6 khachapuri back on the plane with me and ate them, cold, for several days after my return, mourning their diminishing number with every bite.

Khachapuri in Georgia 

Also on the Georgia trip with me was Kerstin Rodgers, who took a similar liking to this supremely comforting  bread. We tried cooking a recipe from The Georgian Feast, an award winning cook book, but it just wasn’t right at all. We didn’t have the correct cheese but it wasn’t just that. Not the kind of people to give up, we got together recently to give khachapuri another try, using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem. It worked a treat. I even managed to find sulguni in a Russian deli in Queensway (Kalinka), which I believe is one of the only if not the only place in London that sells it. They also sell Armenian cognac in bottles shaped like AK47s. One of those got bought, obviously; the last in the shop. When we requested to buy it the lady behind the counter got her walkie talkie out and started speaking frantically in Russian.

Oh how we feasted. Ottolenghi also includes a substitute cheese filling, and that also tastes really quite authentic. Read Kerstin’s post about our khachapuri making evening here; we tried just about every type of random cheese London had to offer (you’ll also get a story about my love life while you’re over there).

Sulguni cheese

Magnificent ‘Ajarian’ (boat shaped) khachapuri cooked in Kerstin’s Aga (and served on a very beautiful tray…)

‘Megruli’ (circular, stuffed) khachapuri, again cooked in the Aga

I also had great success cooking a recipe for BBQ pork and plum sauce in the summer; these spice rubbed skewers was everywhere in Georgia, grilled over hot coals in a pit in the ground and served with sliced raw shallots and a sour/sweet, dill heavy plum sauce. I was amazed at how authentic my plum sauce tasted; although our plums are completely different, the unripe ones we get in the supermarkets are perfect as they’re just as sour. A use for unripe supermarket fruit. Who knew?

Pork grilling in Georgia

The finished pork in Georgia

My Georgian BBQ pork

My Georgian plum sauce

Seeking out authentic tasting Georgian food in London has been much more hit and miss. First I visited Colchis, which is a kind of poshed up Georgian restaurant in Notting Hill;  each to their own, but having visited the country, that’s just the most bizarre concept and it didn’t sit well or indeed taste particularly good. My next experience was completely unexpected, coming as it did from the Pasha Hotel in Camberwell, where I spotted khachapuri on the menu in their Kazakh Kyrgyz restaurant. It was nothing at all like the examples I tasted in Georgia, made from a flaky pastry rather than a bread. It did taste rather nice however and I liked the idea of serving it with raw onion.

And so to my best restaurant experience yet: The Georgian in Clapham South. During the day it’s a somewhat run of the mill cafe serving the usual sandwiches and hot drinks but during the evening they serve Georgian food. I’ll be honest, they seemed surprised to see me when I walked in at 6.30 and a woman initially tried to speak to me in Georgian.

All the classics were there on the menu and I was properly excited. The khachapuri was rather good; nowhere near as oily as the real  thing (I really liked the supreme unhealthiness of the oil) but very tasty nonetheless. The best I’ve had in a restaurant by miles.

Pkhali are pureed vegetables mixed with walnuts, which are abundant in Georgia; we chose spinach and beetroot. They’re like a rich vegetable spread, intense with garlic and dotted with pomegranate seeds. In Georgia each ball is always studded with just one pomegranate seed, like a little jewel nestling in the top.

We stuffed ourselves full of traditional Georgian dumplings, called khinkali, which have very thick and rustic casings, filled with minced meats and their juices and heavily flavoured with black pepper. They take some careful eating; the way to do it is to hold them by the nipple at the top and carefully bite in. We ate them with a green chilli sauce, which was really fierce.

Dumplings with green chilli sauce at The Georgian

The Georgian is the best Georgian place I’ve been to in London so far and I want more people to visit because we were the only evening diners. At the moment they’re clearly frequented more for coffee and cakes which is sad, they ought to be serving many more of their excellent Georgian dishes.

I’ll continue working my way around London’s Georgian restaurants however; I’ve heard that Little Georgia is good. Does anyone have any favourite places?

33 comments » | Bread, Georgia, Restaurant Reviews

Langos: Hungarian Street Food

January 8th, 2013 — 9:26pm

So I’m having dinner with my Hungarian friend Gergely and he’s waving his arms excitedly in the air, getting all nostalgic for langos. During the conversation I get the impression very quickly that Hungarian food is all about insulating; it’s cold there in the winter, innit. Although apparently they eat it on the beach too so er, yeah. Basically a lot of the food seems to be rib sticking, fatty, carb loaded and in this case, deep fried. I am instantly all over it like a particularly vicious rash. It’s always good to talk about unpleasant physical complaints when describing one’s enthusiasm for food, don’t you think?

So on Sunday Gergely came to my house and taught me how to make langos and it was brilliant. He freaked me out by managing to get the dough to rise super fast in my rather cold kitchen, then we made sort of cow pat (sorry) sized discs of dough and plunged them into hot oil. A couple of minutes each side and they emerged golden and sizzling; is there anything more appealing than freshly fried dough? No, no there is not.

We’re not done yet though, because here comes the most important thing about langos – garlic water. The garlic water makes the langos special. It’s officially my new favourite thing and I have a lot of favourite things on the go right now. Basically you just get an absolute shit load of garlic and whack it in a jar with, you’ve guessed it, some water. Oh and a little bit of oil. You mix it together and the garlic kind of mellows but at the same time stays er, really strong. Yeah, that makes sense. Anyway so you brush the freshly fried langos with the garlic water and the intensity of perfume created by the heat meeting the garlic is incredible.

Then it’s time to smear that dough with sour cream. I am assured that Hungarian sour cream is far superior and now of course I long for it. I had to make do with some regular stuff from Tesco Metro. Still, sour cream it was. To finish the langos, grated cheese. Yep. Oh and it absolutely has to be the shittiest cheapest most poorly produced ready grated cheese you can find, apparently. Gergely was very adamant about this. We bought some kind of basic stuff from Tesco and he instantly pronounced it ‘too good’.

Unsurprisingly I instantly fell in love with langos. It’s deep fried dough covered in garlic, sour cream and cheese FFS. We washed it down with Unicum which is like Hungarian Fernet Branca. I’d planned dinner afterwards. It didn’t happen. Gergely and his girlfriend rather impressively went straight on to dinner at Koffman’s. Respect.

Langos is the kind of food we should all be eating in January. Sod the diet, it’s cold and the Hungarians really know how to do food that keeps you warm.

You will however stink of garlic for 2 days.

Langos (makes loads)

1kg flour
2 sachets instant yeast
1 pint luke warm water
2 tablespoons sugar

Mix the sugar, yeast and water in a jug. Wait 5 minutes or so until the top is frothy, then mix with the flour to make a semi soft dough. Gergely did this with his hands. The dough should be really sloppy.

When the dough has doubled in size, oil a piece of foil, then add a drizzle of oil around the edges, which makes the dough come out of the bowl really easily (it is very sticky and won’t come out otherwise). Turn it out onto the foil, cut pieces and make little rounds, which are thinner in the middle.

Deep fry the fuckers.

For the garlic water and to assemble:

Mix about 10 cloves of garlic with a jam jar of water and a splash of oil. Leave for a couple of hours to infuse.

Thin the sour cream by whipping it with a bit of water.

To assemble, douse the langos with the garlic water, spread on sour cream and top with shitty grated cheese.

We did some crazy pimping with a bit of smoked salt and some fennel seeds, admittedly after we’d started on the Unicum.

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