Category: Gluten-free

Char-grilled baby octopus salad

July 4th, 2010 — 10:06am

It’s probably wrong to eat baby octopus isn’t it? I haven’t looked it up because I may not like what I find. I mean, they’re all small or whatever and we all know that’s supposed to be wrong. Tasty though, perfect for BBQ’s and CHEAP:  £1.99 for a bag of 25 odd (frozen) from the Asian supermarket. Billy bargain. We skewered and char-grilled them on the BBQ.

I thought they deserved a good send off, so I lay them to rest on a comfortable Thai-style bedding of shredded things: practically seedless baby cucumbers, spring onions and herbs dressed with plenty of chilli, lime and fish sauce. I wondered if the sweetness of a seriously ripe mango might be pushing things but the flavour worked even though the texture wasn’t perfect.

There is something quite challenging about eating octopus. I remember well the fear I faced when tackling my first, full-size beasty; he also arrived frozen and went from mysterious, solid and portable to formless and slippery as hell. After I’d manned up though, all I had were thoughts of bite-size chunks scattered amongst just-cooked potatoes dusted with paprika and parsley and slugged with good olive oil. Oh I want it again.

Small octopus are a good starting point if you’re squeamish about these things. Our neighbour stuck his head over the balcony to take a look while we were cooking them and he seemed quite interested; I’ve only ever seen the man grill a sausage or burger.  He let himself down shortly afterwards with the admission that he uses a gas BBQ. We berated him appropriately and moved on.

You want to cook your octopus fast so get the BBQ very hot – the coals need to be white before you start grilling. It helps with tentacles (be it squid or octopus) to try and drape them across the grill to stop them falling between the rungs and burning.  A few minutes each side will do it. The resulting flesh should be tender, the tentacles lightly charred.

Someone once told me that it’s wrong to eat octopus because they are intelligent, as animals go. I’m not sure how that even makes any sense but I believe I answered the argument with one word: pig. Surely swine are a case for us to favour eating beasts with more intellectual capacity? I bet a dolphin would taste amazing. Not right though is it. I’m also not a fan of brains – the equivalent of eating the whole of an animals’ intelligence in one fell swoop. The creamy texture weirds me out. This argument is going nowhere but I am clear on one point: I couldn’t give a flying cephalopod’s arse how the octopus would score on the WAIS-R, fact is they make damn good eating.

Char-grilled baby octopus salad
(The octopuses need a bit of time in the marinade (a few hours) so bear this in mind).

Approximately 25 baby octopuses. You are most likely to find these frozen in Asian supermarkets but if you can’t, just substitute with squid or full size octopus. Defrost them thoroughly before using.
4 baby cucumbers or 1 full-size large cucumber, de-seeded and cut into thin strips
1 handful mint leaves, shredded
1 handful coriander leaves, picked from the stalks and left whole
1 large mango, cut into strips. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut around the stone so you have two cheesk (or use a totally unnecessary but brilliant ‘mango stoner‘ to get the same effect. Then score the cheeks into strips before cutting underneath away from the skin.
4 large or 6 small spring onions, cut into strips. You can make them curly if you are having people over or feeling enthusiastic like I was by plunging them into iced water for 20 minutes or so.
1/2 iceberg lettuce, finely shredded

For the marinade/dressing

1 mild red chilli, finely diced
Juice of 1-2 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
5 limes leaves, shredded (optional)
1 smallish (3cm square) cube ginger, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon oil, for cooking the octopus

Begin by making the marinade/dressing. (I make my dressings using a pestle and mortar but if you don’t have one then use a small blender or just crush your non-liquid ingredients then shake everything up in an empty jam jar). Pound your garlic and ginger with the merest pinch of salt (fish sauce is salty) until they resemble a paste. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, lime leaves and chilli and mix well. Taste and adjust the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar as you see fit.

Use a third of this mixture to marinade the octopus, plus the tablespoon of oil. Rub it all over them and refrigerate for about 3-4 hours.

Light the BBQ about 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook them. When you’re ready thread them onto skewers (soaked in cold water for an hour if they are wooden) and grill for a few minutes each side until tender and slightly charred.

Mix the lettuce, spring onions, mango, herbs and cucumber together in a bowl and dress them with another third of the dressing. Arrange on a plate then scatter the octopus on top and drizzle the remaining third of the dressing over the top.

11 comments » | Barbecue, Dressings, Fish, Gluten-free, Healthy, Main Dishes, Salads, Thai, Vegetables

Food from the Rye: Salt Fish

December 2nd, 2009 — 9:43pm

Peckham’s Rye Lane is a right higgle piggle of shops. Traders pile on top of one another; get your mobile phone unlocked while you wait for the butcher to dice your goat meat. There are towers of unusual vegetables, mountains of scotch bonnet chillies, the odd box of African land snails and of course yams, yams and yet more yams  (just don’t look at the frozen fish or broiler chickens). There’s so much interesting stuff down there I just can’t get through it fast enough so I’ve set myself a little challenge. For the next few weeks, I’ll pick up a new ingredient every few days – something I’ve never used before and quite possibly something I won’t recognise. A new and exciting culinary adventure.

Things kicked things off on Sunday with salt fish – something I’ve eaten many times but never got around to cooking at home. A few quid bought me the chunks you see above. I’ve no idea what type of fish it is though and didn’t have much joy communicating with the shop keeper: “do you know what type of fish it is?” “£3,” was the reply. It went on like that for a while. We’ll get there.

When researching recipes I came across a few that recommended boiling the fish in several changes of water rather than soaking it overnight. I was tempted to try it as a time saving measure but feared the flesh not tenderising enough and so plunged the pieces into (several changes) of cold water for 24 hours. If anyone has tried the boiling method then please do let me know. The next stage was rather more arduous than anticipated as I wrestled with the still rather fibrous blocks in an attempt to remove the skin and tease out bones. Again, advice most welcome.

The chosen recipe was salt fish buljol: a traditional Trinidadian dish, apparently often eaten at breakfast. It ticked the right boxes for being simple (don’t run before you can walk) and because I had all the ingredients in anyway. The mixture is cooked until most of the moisture evaporates, leaving a rich amalgamation which celebrates the slightly chewy, meaty, unusual flaky texture of the fish. It is of course salty. We found more than we bargained for in this simple, yet deeply comforting dish.

The effort of preparation was definitely worth it then – salt fish is the bomb. I think maybe fritters are in the pipeline and Chris made some stonking fish cakes with the leftovers. A very encouraging start to my little experiment. Next on the list is a vegetable called Okazi; I’ve found a recipe for it I’m really rather excited about.

Salt Fish Buljol

About as much salt fish as you see at the top of this post (sorry, didn’t weigh it)
2/3 can chopped tomatoes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 red peppers finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper
1/2 – 1 whole scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Lettuce, for serving (optional). Avocado slices are also a nice accompaniment, apparently
Oil for cooking

Soak the salt fish overnight in several changes of water then pull off the skin and flake the flesh. Heat the oil in a wide pan over a medium heat and add the onions, peppers, chilli and tomatoes (I thought it odd not to soften the onions and peppers first but it works out don’t worry). Let that cook for a few minutes then add the fish, half the lemon juice and a good sprinkling of black pepper.

Cook the mixture down on a low heat until the moisture is almost all gone. This probably takes about 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Allow to cool then arrange on top of the lettuce.

22 comments » | Fish, Food From The Rye, Gluten-free, Peckham

Tinda Masala

October 16th, 2009 — 2:43pm

The tinda masala is one of my favourite dishes at Tayyabs; certainly my favourite vegetarian dish and a no-brainer when it comes to ordering. The very first time I went there, I noticed it clinging on at the bottom of the menu and decided to try it as a sympathy order. When I put the first mouthful in my greedy gob however, there was no doubt that the dish was laughing in the face of my pity. I’ve only ever been served one disappointing tinda which, sadly, arrived after I’d been talking my mate’s ear off about it in the pub beforehand. It was watery, bland, lukewarm and all the worse for me bigging it up so much. Generally though those juicy little gourds are cooked on a fierce heat with a punchy, slightly sour sauce, the main ingredients of which Tayyabs insist are just garlic, ginger and chilli; I can’t blame them for not wanting to reveal their secrets.

I’ve seen fresh tinda around recently, but they always seem to look very tired. I cannot tell you the frustration this caused me until eventually, the canned ones stepped in to offer succour.  As soon as I opened that tin, I got a familiar waft of briny tinda – Tayyabs must use the canned version too.

I used this recipe from Mamta’s kitchen, although I omitted the potato and used mustard seeds where she suggests a choice between mustard and cumin. Overall I was pleased with the result: a perfect starting point for some experimentation, although I did think the tomato dominated and will reduce that considerably or just add some fresh at the end like Tayyabs do. A crispy onion garnish would also be most welcome. The tinda don’t really have much flavour of their own but are special for being so incredibly thirsty, soaking up the spiced juices which then burst into the mouth at the slightest pressure. Next time, I will tweak the spices and cook it faster at a higher heat, to avoid breaking up the tinda so much. Of course, I’ll need to make a trip to Tayyabs first for research purposes, just to make sure I get that spicing right. What a hardship.

11 comments » | Curry, Gluten-free, Side Dishes, Vegan, Vegetables

Ottolenghi *Swoon*

January 4th, 2009 — 10:57am

Like many people who do a hefty amount of cooking, I don’t often follow recipes in books (which is not to say I don’t have a massive collection!). Instead, I prefer to use them for inspiration, to check techniques or sometimes just to look at the pretty pictures, quite frankly. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and Ottolenghi is most definitely one of them. I adored the ‘New Vegetarian‘ series, I now adore the book and I hope that soon I shall adore the restaurant/deli too.

There is a bold simplicity to these recipes, which are based around a set of ‘star ingredients’, (listed in the front of the book) – essential flavours in the Ottolenghi repertoire, for example, yoghurt, tahini, sumac and pomegranate molasses. These ingredients I am already in love with, particularly since the release of books such as Moro East and Persia in Peckham.

This roast pumpkin with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses is a current favourite. Soft, sweet squash scattered with crunchy toasted seeds and nuts, accompanied by an aubergine sauce which is pure genius. I know I will continue making this sauce for many years to come. The aubergine is charred until wrinkly and often bursting – the smoky flesh then scraped and combined with natural yoghurt, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and that sticky, fragrant molasses. Great sweet and sour flavours and contrasting textures.

The squash didn’t make it onto a plate, I just plonked the sauce in the middle and we ate the whole lot, from the oven dish, on the sofa. The original sauce recipe calls for olive oil but I left it out (Christmas calorie guilt) and it still tastes amazing. In fact, I may even prefer it.

I picked up two more aubergines on the way home yesterday, to make a double batch this afternoon. I will be munching through it while thumbing through the book, trying to decide which of the ten or so earmarked recipes will be next on my hitlist. This is a true pleasure in itself, for the book is a beautiful thing. Glorious pictures of the Ottolenghi establishment/s, platters towered high with lush, vibrant salads, perfectly cooked meats and decadent cakes and pastries.

Glossy pages, beautiful photography and chef magic aside however, I reckon Ottolenghi is the perfect book for the home cook. The recipes are easy to make yet impressive and (at the risk of sounding a bit Jamie O), sexy. There is a sense of generosity, a celebration of ingredients, the flavour of each being clearly discernable – no fussing. The Ottolenghi passion has jumped right from the chefs to the book to the plate to my belly and – I think I may be in love.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses (from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sammi Tamimi).
(I bought a big bottle of pomegranate molasses in my local Sainsbury’s for £2.50 ish. It is also available in delis and middle Eastern food shops).

1 large butternut squash (I used a small pumpkin)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds (I didn’t have any)
1 tablespoon black (or white) sesame seeds
1 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds
10g sliced almonds
10g basil leaves (I didn’t have any)
Sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt, room temp
2 tablespoons olive oil (I left this out)
1.5 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon roughly choppped flatleaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed

– Preheat oven to 220C/Gas 7/425F. Cut the squash into wedges, 2-3cm thick. Remove the seeds and arrange in a roasting tray, skin side down. Brush with half the oil and season well. Cook for 25-30 minutes until soft and slightly brown.

– Reduce the oven to 180C/Gas4/350F. Spread the almonds and seeds on a roasting tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

– For the sauce, either put the aubergine directly onto a gas hob flame, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the skin is dried and cracked and the aubergine smells smoky. You can also do this by putting the aubergine under a hot grill. The aubergine often bursts I find, but this is fine. Just be careful not to lose that flesh! It needs to be very soft inside.

– Scoop the flesh from the aubergine and discard the skin. Drain the flesh in a colander for ten minutes, then chop roughly and combine with the yoghurt, oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and season.

– Arrange the squash on a plate, scatter over the seeds and nuts and serve the dressing alongside. Scatter over the basil and serve.

36 comments » | Books, Gluten-free, Healthy, Lunchbox, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Fennel and Orange Salad with Raspberry Vinegar and Poppy Seed Dressing.

August 4th, 2008 — 2:03pm

I haven’t cooked much since we’ve been back from Iceland, mostly due to the humidity. As the plane was landing we listened to the usual pleasantries from the pilot, ” welcome to London Stansted, local time is approximately 19.30, temperature 27C.” 27! At 7.30? Has the summer happened while we’ve been away? Of course, I’m not complaining or anything, us Brits should celebrate whatever we can get. It was a stark contrast though, leaving the cool, clear, crispness of Iceland and plunging into the sticky city. Straight off the express train and a run for the bus, which was packed, by the way. Squeeze our way on only for the driver to promptly get off and start an argument with a cabbie in the next lane. Welcome home.

So we are mostly eating raw foods at the moment, salads filled with refreshing ingredients and the odd piece of fish. Poppy seeds are my ‘new thing’ and they work really well in this perky little dressing. I love their little flecks against the orange and fennel. I threw in some purple radish shoots which added a nice peppery element but you could easily do without. A nice little twist on a classic Sicilian salad. We ate it with a piece of pan fried haddock, which I managed to coax Chris into cooking, such is my summer oven fear.

This dressing is my entry for this month’s ‘No Croutons Required‘ hosted by Lisa at Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen. The theme this month is, you’ve guessed it – dressings.

Fennel and Orange Salad with Raspberry Vinegar and Poppy Seed Dressing

4 small oranges
2 small fennel bulbs
Small handful purple radish shoots (optional)
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Salt and pepper

– Finely slice the fennel and segment the oranges. Combine in a bowl with half the radish shoots.
– To make the dressing, whisk together the raspberry vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl. Add salt, pepper and the poppy seeds and mix again. Add to the salad to taste. Sprinkle the remaining radish shoots on top.

26 comments » | Fruit, Gluten-free, Healthy, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegan, Vegetables

Peaches, Beets, Walnuts & Gorgonzola

July 12th, 2008 — 9:37am

The ‘urban garden’ has been a moderate success – ok, so the potatoes weren’t exactly abundant! The tomatoes are going strong though, the herbs flourishing (even two types of basil I’ve been unable to grow before) and these pretty salad leaves, the first harvest. One is a type of rocket, the other is known as ‘bull’s blood’ – presumably due to its striking red veins. Both have a slightly bitter flavour, a good foil for the sweet peaches and creamy cheese.

These were supposed to be grilled. I forgot to light the BBQ, so I cooked them gently in a little butter and black pepper. I tossed them with the salad leaves, some walnut halves, roasted beets, crumbled gorgonzola – all drizzled with a dressing made by whisking olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. A little chopped mint is good too if you have it.

25 comments » | Fruit, Garden, Gluten-free, Main Dishes, Salads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

Beetroot, Squash & Halloumi with Chilli-Herb Dressing

July 9th, 2008 — 7:11am

When I first went to university, around 7 years ago now, I remember thinking that a butternut squash was a pretty exotic ingredient. For a start, it looked funny, had an almost impenetrable skin and would keep for what seemed like an age – perfect for the absent minded student. A butternut squash risotto was probably the most adventurous dish I ever cooked back then and I remember that trying to find the sage was a bit of a challenge.



I was a little surprised to find a butternut squash in the veg box this week – it must be an early bloomer. I wanted to roast it but still keep it nice and summery mixed with the grilled, salty cheese, spiked with red chilli and lots of herbs. The key here is to cut the beetroot into small dice and the squash into larger, bite size chunks to ensure they are both cooked at the same time. My halloumi could do with a little more grilling but I am very impatient.

You could use any mixture of soft herbs; I added a bit of mint to contrast the chilli heat, some chives and a little parsley for freshness. Make sure you have some sort of citrus on hand too for cutting through everything; I used lemon as I always have loads hanging around. A final flourish of sunflower seeds for a bit of crunch and it’s a goer.

Beetroot, Squash and Halloumi with Chilli-Herb Dressing

100g halloumi cheese, cubed
3 small beets, cut into small dice
1 small butternut squash, cut into large chunks
1 small handful sunflower seeds
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
1 handful chives, chopped
1 handful parsley, leaves picked and left whole
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bulb garlic

– Preheat the oven to 200C (425F, gas 7).
– Put the squash, beets and garlic in a roasting tin, splash with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast for around 45 minutes until the veggies are tender.
– Fry the halloumi in a dry pan until golden.
– Mix the lemon juice, herbs, chilli and mustard together with some pepper fine salt and mix well. When the veggies are done, squeeze a few cloves of the roasted garlic in too. I like to serve the rest of the cloves on the side but they are also delicious spread on toasted bread with some fruit and/or cheese.
– Put the veggies and halloumi on a serving dish, pour over the dressing and add the seeds.

21 comments » | Gluten-free, Lunchbox, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetables

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