Category: Starters


Favourite Istanbul Meze: Yoghurt with Celeriac

May 5th, 2014 — 8:22pm

Yoghurt with Celeriac

Like every other cook, I plan my holidays around what I can put into my gob, and where. Neither I, nor the majority of my friends would consider going away without having made The List, a document on which is collated restaurant and other food oriented recommendations extracted from mates, Twitter and Google in the weeks running up to the trip. As useful as these lists can be however, I also find them an albatross. There’s a lot to be said for exploring a city simply by arseing about with no particular plans or direction, and it can often lead to the best discoveries. I stumbled across Has Urfa Lahmacun for example on a morning when we were slightly lost, and desperately hungry; we just pitched up there out of necessity and had one of our favourite meals of the trip. Being too tied to The List can mean one ends up ping ponging from place to place, frantically trying to tick off experiences without stopping to actually enjoy just being somewhere new. I’ve definitely been guilty of that.

What I try to do now is just mark out a few places that really MUST be visited, and keep the rest in reserve. Çukur Meyhane, a ‘Turkish pub’, was in the former category; I’d heard good things about the food, but also I knew that (DANGER! DANGER!) they specialise in raki. If you’re not familiar, raki is an anise flavoured spirit, like pastis, Pernod, or arak, but with the ability to induce next-level drunken irritability. Unfortunately we have quite a taste for it. Or should I say ‘had’. The fridges at Çukur Meyhane are rammed with bottles distilled in different areas of Turkey (some labelled with people’s names – for their use only), but I have to admit, they all tasted the same to me.

What I really enjoyed was the food. We gorged (and I do mean gorged; I rolled around afterwards like a fatted seal pup) on aubergine and yoghurt salads, pastries, stuffed vine leaves (not sure I’ll ever really come round to liking vine leaves that much), and a seriously good grilled liver flecked with ground coriander and chilli, which I’ve since tried and failed to re-create on the BBQ. This yoghurt dish was my absolute favourite. You’ll find a yoghurt meze dish on every menu in Istanbul, but this was different. At first I thought it contained grated celery which had been allowed to drain its water, but then I recognised the earthiness of that weird knobbly root. I’m not the  biggest fan of celeriac in soup, or even just cooked, to be honest; baked in ash at The Ledbury is one thing, but at home? Meh. Remoulade all the way, for me, and now of course, in this yoghurt. It spoke to me, basically. Give it a whirl.

Kartalsk

Raki pictures line the walls at Çukur Meyhane

Yoghurt with Celeriac

The original: yoghurt with celeriac at Çukur Meyhane

IMG_4049

Hazy Raki days

Istanbul Cats

Sunbathing cats

Yoghurt with Celeriac (we ate this as a meze between 4)

500g full fat Greek style yoghurt. I used Total, but you could also use a strained yoghurt. Don’t use low fat if you can help it and don’t use one that is too thin (hence my suggesting strained if you can’t find the Total brand).
Juice 1/2-1 whole lemon
Small handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
80g celeriac, grated
1 large clove garlic

Cook the garlic clove in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside. Put the yoghurt in a large mixing bowl, then beat it with a fork until smooth. Grate in the celeriac and squeeze in about half the juice from half the lemon. Crush the garlic clove and add it, then stir in the parsley, add a good pinch of salt, and set aside to sit for an hour or so at room temperature. After this time, stir again, taste, and add more lemon juice and salt if needed. Eat with warmed or toasted bread.

Çukur Meyhane, Kartal Sokak 1/A, Beyoglu, Istanbul 
Telephone: 212-244-5575
Quite a few tables were reserved on the evening we went, so get there early or call ahead.

17 comments » | Barbecue, Dips, Istanbul, Nibbles, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Starters, Turkey

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes

April 30th, 2013 — 7:04pm

Oxford, despite being a rather famous and much visited city, doesn’t really have many good restaurants. At least, it didn’t when I lived there for a good five years and I haven’t really heard any news to the contrary since. Maybe I’m out of touch.

One diamond in the rough used to be The Magdalen Arms, a pub on Iffley Road, which served food that was everything pub grub should be but rarely is; un-fussed and generous, yet skilfully cooked. I remember a resplendent crab, nothing more than plunged into boiling water and served whole, ready to be worked over, the meat dipped in quivering mayonnaise. We sat in the sunshine and cracked, delved and mined its nooks and crannies for meat, rocking around in our seats on the back of copious amounts of rosé.

Another highlight was a stuffed artichoke, leaves splayed and crammed fat with goats’ cheese, herbs and breadcrumbs, shiny with olive oil. We teased away the leaves and sucked the creamy, intense stuffing from them. This was probably about 3 years ago and the dish still enters my thoughts occasionally, hence, this recipe.

Once the leaves are sucked clean, there is of course the sweet, soft heart to be had. A lovely, leisurely starter.

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes (serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

2 large or 4 smaller globe artichokes
1 thick slice stale white bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
125g ricotta and 50g feta OR 175g goats cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus one more for cooking

Snip the tips off the artichokes leaves and stems, turn them upside down and give them a good rap on the counter top to make the leaves splay out a bit. Give them a bit more encouragement to open up using your fingers, then keep them in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This supposedly stops them from going brown, although they always seem to do it anyway.

Prepare the stuffing by mixing everything together and adding some salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture into the gaps between the leaves then arrange the artichokes in a pan where they fit snugly, you don’t want them moving about in there. The advice is not to cook them in a pan made of reactive metal such as iron or aluminium, again because it makes them discolour although again, I find they do anyway.

Fill the pan with water so it comes about a third to halfway up the artichokes and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and put a lid on. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the leaves come away without too much resistance.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so, then serve. With napkins. Lots.

19 comments » | Cheese, Starters, Vegetables

Georgian Spinach Pkhali

April 9th, 2013 — 10:23am

Life has been a whirlwind recently. Aside from writing a book, doing my normal job and studying, I thought it would be a great idea to move house. Totally sensible.

Of course, I had flu at the same time as packing up the entirety of my belongings and shifting them from one place to another, which then evolved into suspected malaria (I’d been to Ethiopia). I haven’t told my mum that yet so when she reads this she’ll kill me. Anyway mum it turned out I don’t have it, because some things are actually, sometimes, genuinely, too dramatic to happen to me.

The point is that I’ve moved to Camberwell. I have betrayed Peckham. Well, sort of. If I walk about ten paces to the left then I am still actually in Peckham so I’ve decided I now live on the Peckham/Camberwell borders/badlands and I am entitled to enjoy the best of both worlds. There are several awesome things about the new world however. The first is that I am spitting distance from Silk Road and F M Mangal. Dangerous. The second is that I have discovered the Turkish Food Centre on Camberwell New Road where I basically just went mental, flinging money about and grabbing stuff off the shelves like a crazed, food-shopping-starved dervish which, essentially, I have been. I bought lots of things to go with spinach, which I’ve been obsessing about. I think it’s part of needing to get some vitamins in. Not being settled in one place can really balls up your eating, by which I mean there’s been a lot of eating out, buying crap or just not being organised or happy enough to even consider making anything like a decent packed lunch.

So, the spinach. As you will know (because I keep banging on about it), I went to Georgia and properly fell in love with the country and the food. I’ve therefore been thinking about making these little spinach and walnut balls, called pkhali, for yonks. This month’s issue of Saveur had a 4 or 5 page spread on Georgia (all of a sudden the food is getting attention) and they had a recipe so I gave it a whirl.

I have to say, it tasted pretty authentic, although there are a couple of amendments which I’d say are pretty crucial to consider. Firstly, they advise puréeing the spinach which I’d strongly suggest you don’t do. All the pkhali I ate in Georgia had a very satisfying coarse texture. I’d also say it is essential to let the mixture rest overnight in the fridge. Other than that, the recipe is pretty spot on. The final result is a lovely punchy vegetable spread, with a richness from the ground walnuts and plenty of flavour from the herbs, coriander and tarragon (very Georgian) and the ground fenugreek.

You can make pkhali with any vegetables really, and the Georgians also commonly use beets, which make a lovely colour contrast against the spinach if you’re planning your own supra.

This mixture improves the longer you leave it in the fridge and I’d say it will keep for up to a week.

Georgian Spinach Pkhali (adapted from Saveur)

600g spinach (the proper, big ballsy stuff; I’m done with baby spinach)
180g shelled walnuts
1 generous handful coriander leaves
1 generous handful tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (I crushed the seeds in a pestle and mortar)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 spring onions
1 heaped teaspoon chilli flakes (I used Turkish)
1 pomegranate, for garnish

Chop the stalks off the spinach and then wash the leaves really well. Chuck it into a large pan while it is still wet, put a lid on and set it over a low heat. Let it slowly wilt down, stirring every now and then, until it is all wilted. Allow it to cool completely (the easiest way to do this is to spread it out on a plate). When cool, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as possible. You will be amazed at the amount of water that has come out and by how much the spinach is now reduced in size. I went from a pile of spinach that covered this whole board to this ball you see below…

Pound the walnuts in a pestle and mortar until they are more or less all crushed to a powder (a few chunks here and there are fine). Mix the walnuts with the spinach and all the other ingredients, plus plenty of salt (more than you think necessary) and pepper.

Mix really well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball and make a small indent in the top of each one with your fingertip. Place a pomegranate seed in each. Serve with bread or toast for spreading. Ideally khachapuri.

21 comments » | Georgia, Nibbles, Snacks, Starters, Vegan, Vegetables

Hickory smoked hot wings with sour cream slaw

August 8th, 2011 — 11:34am

The first time I made hot wings they were good, but not hot enough. I wanted try again using the authentic, not very secret ingredient, Frank’s Original Hot Sauce. I also wanted to try my hand at smoking them so I sensed the opportunity for an Amazon binge and bought: 3 bottles of Frank’s, a tub of Old Bay Seasoning, a Weber chimney starter and a pack of hickory wood chips.

I would encourage anyone who owns a half decent BBQ with a lid to buy some wood chips for smoking immediately, if you haven’t already. There were almost tears of joy when we lifted the lid to find a rack of wings turned orange with hickory smoke; I was amazed at the results you can achieve with just a regular home kettle BBQ.

I’d marinated the wings overnight in herbs and seasonings, then smoked them for 25 minutes a side over indirect heat with the hickory chips thrown in. They emerged crisp and burnished brown, ready for a good plunge into a combo of Frank’s Original and melted butter before going back on the grill, over direct heat for another 20 minutes. To finish, a final lick of that sauce and straight onto the plate.

The smoking, together with the sweet, vinegar-chilli punch of Frank’s (it’s like a thick Tabasco) cut with velvety butter, makes the flavour incredibly intense – not to mention sticky. A mound of discarded kitchen paper stained orange with sauce rose before us as we worked our way, just the 2 of us, through 24 wings.

It seemed appropriate to cut the heat and umami with something a little sharp, a little creamy; a cool, crunchy pit stop between wings. Slaw. This is a classic mix of carrot, white cabbage and red onion; the sauce a mix of sour cream, natural yoghurt, a smidge of American mustard and my secret ingredient – a slosh of juice from a jar of dill cucumbers, which adds a lovely spiced-sweet pickled note.

Later on, we deep-fried more pickles and shoved them into a sandwich with shredded wing meat and slaw. So gluttonous. So unhealthy. So. Good.

Hickory Smoked Hot Wings

26-30 chicken wings

For the marinade

2 cloves garlic
1 white onion
3 teaspoons thyme leaves
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper

For the sauce

1 bottle plus 2 tablespoons Frank’s Original Hot Sauce (that’s about 12 tablespoons in total)
125g butter

You will also need hickory chips for smoking the meat.

Begin the day before by marinating the wings. Put the onion in a blender with the garlic and 1-2 tablespoons water and blend to a paste. Put into a large bowl (the one you will use to hold the wings) and add all the other marinade ingredients. Mix well. Add the wings and mix really well to make sure they are all evenly coated. Refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to cook the wings, remove them from the fridge to bring the temperature up and set up your BBQ for indirect cooking; this means lighting the coals to one side (you will cook the meat on the other side). Take a couple of handfuls of hickory chips and soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

When the BBQ is ready, sprinkle a handful of chips directly onto the coals and put your wings on the other side in a single layer (you may need to do 2 batches as I did). Put the lid on (leave the holes half open) and smoke for 25 minutes. After this time, turn the wings and sprinkle on a few more chips.

Melt the butter and hot sauce together in a pan (don’t be alarmed at the strength of it, this will be tamed somewhat once on the wings). Remove half of it to a bowl and dunk the wings in it, then return to the grill, this time directly over the coals for about 10 minutes each side, until well charred. Dunk again in the sauce before serving. Get the kitchen paper ready.

Sour cream slaw

1/4 white cabbage, very finely shredded
1 medium sized carrot, grated, julienned or shredded in a processor
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
3 heaped tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon American mustard
1 tablespoon snipped chives
2 tablespoons juice from a jar of dill pickled cucumbers
Salt and pepper

If you can use a food processor to finely shred the vegetables, do. I used a julienne peeler for the carrot and just finely sliced the onion and cabbage by hand. Put the veg in a large bowl. In another bowl, make the dressing by mixing together all the remaining ingredients. Mix this well with the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.

42 comments » | Barbecue, Beer, Meat, Pickles, Salads, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, Snacks, Starters, Street Food

Wedge salad with blue cheese dressing & candied bacon

July 11th, 2011 — 8:12pm

I just love how the Americans cut a big wedge of iceberg, drench it in blue cheese dressing and then call it a salad. Respect.

I’m rather fond of the poor old iceberg. It doesn’t have any flavour to speak of but as a big ol’ wedge of crunch, no lettuce does it better. So, you take a quarter of the lettuce and drench it; yes, drench it, in a blue cheese and sour cream dressing. Dribble. You’ll need something to offset all that richness and tang though, so why not sprinkle on a handful of sweet ‘n salty pig-candy pieces? Oh yes indeedy. Picture this: kerrrunch down through that wedge; creamy, salty; nuggets of blue cheese sneaking into every layer but then, hang on what’s this? Chewy shards of sticky, streaky candied bacon, that’s what. Salad garnish crack.

Caramelised walnuts would make a lovely alternative to the bacon but I wasn’t allowed to make those because that would have taken up time I could have been using to make more candied bacon.

Wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and candied bacon (serves 4)

1 iceberg lettuce (try to get a nice round one so your wedges look good)
150g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
200ml sour cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus extra just in case; I found I wanted a little more)
1 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon)
1 tablespoon chives, snipped with scissors

For the candied bacon

8 rashers streaky bacon
1-2 teaspoons of sugar per bacon rasher, depending on size

First candy the bacon by laying the rashers out on a baking tray and sprinkling the sugar evenly over them. Whack them under a hot grill until crisp and caramelised. Wipe the rashers around in the stick juices that have accumulated in the tray, turn them over and cook the other side. Watch them like a hawk once you’ve turned them as they will caramelise extremely fast. Once cooked, remove and let cool on a wire rack. Don’t let the pieces touch each other as they will stick together.

Crush the garlic with a teeny pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar until creamy. Blend the garlic with all the other dressing ingredients together in a bowl. You can do this with a blender if you like but I like my blue cheese dressing quite chunky so I mash it in a bowl to achieve the right consistency; it’s nice to get the odd nugget of cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper if you like; the cheese will already be quite salty. Taste again and add a little more lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Remove any manky outer leaves from your iceberg and quarter it. Wash it. Arrange each wedge on a plate, dollop on the blue cheese dressing. Cut the bacon into pieces and sprinkle over. Serve.

26 comments » | Barbecue, Dressings, Salads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

Salmon Tartare

April 28th, 2011 — 2:38pm

 

I’ve been enjoying the luxury of a few days off, taking full advantage of the fact that I can wander up to the fishmonger whenever I damn well feel like it. Yesterday, I craved something light but still a bit special; salmon tartare seemed to fit the bill.

I’ve long been of the opinion that salmon is best eaten raw. It has such a firm, silky texture and a clean flavour. When heat is applied, there is a very fine line between perfectly semi-translucent flakes and minging mush. This recipe is of course a fishy variation on beef tartare. The flavours are pretty much the same; tangy ingredients like capers and gherkins, herbs, onion and Tabasco all go as well with salmon as they do with beef, although you’ll want to skip the standard raw egg yolk. With fish, I think it’s nicer to cut chunks rather than mincing it quite small as you would with meat.

This is a lovely way to eat salmon in the summer when you want something cool and refreshing or can’t bear the thought of heat from a grill. Just make sure to buy your fish from a good fishmonger and let them know you’ll be eating it raw; although the citrus juice will partly cook the fish, you want the freshest piece possible.

I sometimes do an Asian twist on this, swapping lemon for lime juice and using shallot, chilli, coriander, soy and sesame oil. If you try this variation, mackerel works really well in place of salmon.

Salmon Tartare (feeds 1 greedy person)

200g salmon fillet, skinned (make sure to check with the fishmonger that it can be eaten raw)
1/2-1 teaspoon red onion or shallot, very finely chopped
1/2 – 1 teaspoon capers, very finely chopped
1/2 – 1 teaspoon parsley, very finely chopped
1 small gherkin, very finely chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
A few shakes of Tabasco
Salt and pepper

Chop the salmon into small chunks. Mix in all the other ingredients then cover and let sit for about 10 minutes. Stir again and serve with toasted rye or other bread. You may want to add more condiments after tasting.

12 comments » | Fish, Fish and Seafood, Main Dishes, Seafood, Starters

Corn fritters

September 14th, 2010 — 6:38pm

I usually serve these with bacon. It’s sweet n salty amazing. This scotch bonnet salsa is also lovely, but there’s a clear lack of pork in the picture and for that I apologise.

Corn is dirt cheap right now and I constantly hear it begging me to shear it from the cob and fritter the living daylights out of it. The fresh stuff really keeps its succulence but canned and frozen will also work. There are all sorts of things you could add to the mix; Simon suggested cockles, which I’m dying to try. Salt fish is a favourite, if a little more effort. Often though I prefer a simple recipe – a touch of spice, a little spring onion and fresh herbs; it’s all about the corn.

Fiona Beckett asked me to contribute a recipe to her student cooking site, Beyond Baked Beans and so this is it. The recipe is easy, fun to make and when served with bacon and perhaps an egg, one of the best hangover cures known to woman. What more could a student want from a meal? If you can stomach it though, there’s literally no better accompaniment than an ice cold beer.

Corn Fritters

140g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
220ml milk
3 large corn cobs
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful of fresh herbs, such as mint, coriander or parsley
If you’re not serving this with a hot sauce, try adding a finely chopped red chilli in the batter
Salt and pepper

Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

Sift the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder. Pour in the milk and mix well to make a smooth batter.

Remove any outer papery husk and strings from the corn cobs then stand one on its end on a chopping board and carefully run your knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat this until all the kernels are stripped off and then add them to the batter. Add the egg, spices and spring onion and season with two large pinches each of salt and pepper.

Heat a 1cm depth of oil in a heavy based frying pan or skillet and wait until it starts shimmering, but not smoking. Turn the heat to medium-high. Drop a tablespoon of the batter into the oil at a time and immediately flatten it out into a round fritter shape. It will take a few minutes to turn golden on the underneath – you can then flip it over and brown the other side. Be wary as the oil will spit a little and splash as you turn them. Set aside to drain of excess oil on kitchen paper then keep warm in an oven on its lowest setting while you make the rest. Don’t be tempted to try and put too many in the pan at once.

Serve with bacon. And perhaps egg. Or anything else you fancy.

13 comments » | Beer, Breakfast, Brunch, Dips, Main Dishes, Peckham, Salsa, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

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