17/04/2016

Tarhana. Trahanas. Call it what you will.

Trahanas is a soup or, rather, it is the ingredients that go into making a soup.

It is not pretty soup. It is comfort soup. Sustaining soup. Very filling soup.

It is Cypriot trahanas. Turkish tarhana. Egyptian kishk. Iraqui kushuk. Kurdish tarxane. Cracked wheat and yoghurt at its most basic form. Dried in the sun, then revived when needed. Some add eggs, some add halloumi. Some use chicken stock, some just water.

It's nourishing. Warming. Tangy.

Persians, Bulgarians, Iraqis, Cypriots, Greeks, Armenians, Egyptians - we all eat it, we all love it.
We're none of us so different at all, really.

From Wikipedia: these are names for a dried food based on a fermented mixture of grain and yoghurt or fermented milk, usually made into a thick soup with water, stock, or milk (Persian ash-e tarkhineh dugh آش ترخینه دوغ). As it is both acid and low in moisture the milk proteins keep for long periods. Tarhana is very similar to some kinds of kishk.

I remember mum making this when I was small, and me being excited about it because I thought she was making avgolemono, and then being disappointed when it wasn't.

This is heavier, and possibly more bland in a way, but it also has that back tang of the yoghurt to lift it. It has a slightly granular texture, but it is soft at the same time.

I only acquired a liking for it when I brought some back from the markets in Cyprus. It was golden in colour, instead of the usual beige, and it looked....well it just looked more appealing. I'd just had a wisdom tooth out and was on liquids for two weeks, so the thought of a nourishing, substantial but above all SOFT soup was very appealing to me. As I was able to eat more, I added cubes of halloumi to it, bulking it out even further.

On a winter night, a big bowl of this with some cheese and a bit of bread would leave you wanting nothing more than a blanket and a good sleep.

A handful of trahanas sticks - probably about 6 pieces for one person who wants leftovers

I cover them with water, and soak them overnight, but you probably don't have to. I just prefer there to be no lumps.

Once they are soaked, I add another cup or so of water, and add a chicken stock pot. I have a huge amount of affection for chicken stock, and it just livens the soup up. The Knorr ones are nice, as they are fairly light. Of course you can use vegetable stock.

Let this simmer for a good half an hour. The stock will gradually get absorbed so keep an eye on it.

I usually have mine just as it is, but some cubed halloumi simmered in it for 5 minutes just to warm through is rather nice too.





16/04/2016

Breakfast for Dinner

I'm a great believer in comfort food. I don't mean the usual British nursery or school dinners style food - all sponge puddings, mashed potatoes and a lack of chewing, though they most certainly have their place - I mean all kinds of food that give comfort because of what you, the eater, associate them with.

More often than not it will be foods of your childhood, whatever and wherever that childhood was for you, but it can also mean foods that you simply associate with feeling safe, and happy. Holiday meals near the sea maybe, with that odd tang of salt on your lips, or that first time you went out to eat in a restaurant on your own, with your mates not your parents, feeling oh so grown up as you handed over your cash in Pizza Hut after playing Salad Bowl Structural Integrity. The first ever popcorn at the cinema, or the novelty of eating something in a foreign country, that you have never, ever tasted before. That's the thrill of discovery, and those early tastes get imprinted. To be fair, they do not always imprint in a good way, but you can mostly overcome that if you try. You are allowed to dislike things, and there will be some things that you simply cannot bear, no matter how beautifully they are cooked.

Comfort foods for me are usually the things that my nan or Mum cooked whilst I was growing up, but sometimes, not often, a dad dish creeps in. 

He didn't cook that much for me, as he was rarely around when I was awake. Old fashioned barbers keep long, long hours. Every once in a while, on a Sunday, he would cook loukanika sausages, with fried potatoes and eggs. I would eat the potatoes first, then the sausage - having tried to pick out the coriander seeds - and then the eggs. These days I seem to eat the eggs first. 

This weekend I'm oddly discombobulated, as Tex is away, and I have to work on Sunday, so my routine is shot. Add to that attending a Terry Pratchett memorial - all emotion and joy and laughter and sheer grief rolled into one - and it lead to me wanting food to soothe, easy enough to put together, a dish that wasn't going to try my patience, and wasn't going to take too long either. I knew I had some Cypriot sausages in the fridge, though not loukanika, and after a bit of a rummage I found a tired old potato that was begging to be used before it turned up curly spindly rooty toes and died.

1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
1 pastourma sausage, skinned and sliced 
3 eggs, beaten
olive oil

Heat the olive oil gently.
Pat the potato cubes dry, and add to the pan. 
Cook them on one side until well browned, turn them over, sprinkle with a little fine salt, and cover so they steam and cook through.
When they are browned all over and tender all the way through, push them to one side, and add the sausage slices. They will shrink as the fat comes out.
When the slices look cooked, drain the fat off, move the sausages and potatoes to one side of the pan and then pour the eggs in.
Stir to scramble the egg as it solidifies, then gradually mix the cooked egg into the sausages and potatoes.
Serve and eat as soon as you can. This is one Greek dish that is better hot.




10/04/2016

Chiquito's, Leicester Square

It's a long time since I've been to a Chiquito's. Probably about 20 years, if I'm honest. I wasn't that impressed, I admit, so I never bothered to go back, especially when Wahaca surged into the forefront of Mexican food in the UK. 

Wahaca aren't as good as they used to be, which seems to be the way of things when more and more branches open in quick succession, sadly. When a friend posted on instagram that she'd been to Chiquito's, and expressed glee that the new menu was excellent, I thought I'd give them another try. A lot can change in 20 years, after all! (I am aware that Wahaca's premise is different, before anyone says anything.)

My friend K and I went along on a balmy Tuesday evening. School holidays made for a rather packed restaurant, but to our surprise and pleasure, the noise level was completely manageable. The music didn't intrude, the staff were extremely attentive and lovely to everyone - great move there, they kept the kids occupied - and it was an altogether pleasant experience. 

The tables are a little too close together, but it's a premium venue, on a prime location, so I imagine they have to pack in as many as they can. 

We were brought a small dish of spiced popcorn, which both of us loved, and then we got to work on the menu.



They have a large array of drinks, and I was happy to see a non alcoholic cocktail, so I went for a Virgin Colada. I am so fed up of just being given the lemonade/cola choice, that it was a real treat to see care taken over the non alcohol imbibing people.  It was more like a slushy, having a lot of crushed ice, but once I'd burrowed down with the straw, it tasted gorgeous. Pineapple and coconut is a real treat for me. The glass was very tall, and I ended up having to take it off the table to get a slurp!



K got a Mojito, which looked the part, but suffered from over syrup-ing. They are meant to be zingy, and tangy with the fresh lime and mint, but this was...well, it tasted like a Mojito Solero ice lolly. Way too sweet for a grown up drink. (All you need for a mojito is mint sprigs muddled with sugar and lime juice. Rum is added and topped with soda water. That's it. There should be no sugar syrup.)

We went for barbecue chicken wings and sweet potato chorizo croquettes to start.  

The croquettes were also very sweet, as was the jalapeno jelly they were sat on. It had a good kick, but the sweetness of that, plus the chorizo, plus the sweet potato made the overall taste a bit lacking in zing. "Needs lime." we muttered.



The wings were fabulous. Good sized, very meaty, and sticky, with a good smokey depth to them and properly crispy edges. Might I suggest more napkins, or finger bowls though.




K went for Spiced Coconut Chicken as her main. 
"Fresh chicken breast, ginger and red chilli in a spicy aromatic coconut sauce. Served with Mexican spiced rice, tortilla puffs and a dollop of whipped feta & honey"

It was a rather attractive presentation, and had me coveting the dish, though a small plate to go with it would have been useful, so you could mix things up. (We asked for, and very quickly got, a plate, so that worked out just fine.)



After tasting the rice, we pronounced it to be lovely, and perfectly cooked. Each grain separate, and coated in flavourful spices. Just right. The sauce for the chicken was....well, ok, it was tasty, yes, but again, far too sweet and there was no heat or discernible ginger to it. There was a large amount of chicken - this is a very generous dish - and the tortilla puffs were a thing of salted, golden beauty.  

That sauce though...again we muttered "It needs lime." I think we'd hoped for that glorious smoke that comes with chipotle or ancho chiles, and it was missing from this. The coconut didn't come through very much either. We actually asked for a plate of lime wedges, and added the juice. It did help lift it, but not enough to make it better than just ok. It's got promise, but needs work. 

I had three of the Street Food items.

Crispy Tacos (Two crispy tortillas filled with spicy chicken, melted cheese and topped with sour cream), Chilli Beef Empanadas (Crispy parcels, filled with your choice of: Spicy Chicken, Roasted Vegetables and Feta (v) or Beef Chilli) and Whipped Feta with Honey (A creamy feta & honey whip, served with toasted tortilla triangles and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds). 

The tacos were brilliant. Crisp, but not to the point of shattering when you bit into them, and with a generous amount of filling. 


Empanadas are one of my favourite things, and these did not disappoint. The beef chilli had smoke, and heat, and seriously rich depth. Next time I might get a platter of those, all to myself. Look at that glorious, pointed end. It was all crunch and soft, juicy insides.


The whipped feta and honey was exceptionally creamy, which make me think that there's not purely feta in there, because there was no salt tang at all. Feta is very distinctive, and I couldn't taste it. I'm Greek, feta is Important. The tortilla pieces that came with it were soft, not very toasted, and just didn't contrast with the dip. Now, the tortilla puffs would work amazingly well with the feta, as they are slightly salty, and that feta needed salt to work with the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds. 


We did look longingly at the dessert menu, because there were Churros, but we were very full, so decided not to be piglets. I also ate way too many churros in Madrid last year, and I'm still not ready for any more.

Overall, we did enjoy our meal, and the staff were all properly lovely and kind.

Some of the dishes do need work, but I would be more than happy to go back and try again, as everything had promise, and some of it was outstanding. Plus I want to try their Pina Colada prawns!

K and I ate as guests of Chiquitos.