23/05/2017

Warm Salad of Cauliflower, Almonds and Garlic

It was Easter weekend, and I’d been cooking. As ever. I had bits and pieces to use up, so this salad came together as a way of doing so. Now I think I might be buying the ingredients purely to make it again!

The almonds are used as a major flavour/texture component here, not just a garnish, which is why there is quite a large amount.

1 x 100g bag of flaked almonds

1/4 of a medium cauliflower

2 tbs barberries (you could use chopped dried cranberries or dried sour cherries)

1 fat clove thinly sliced garlic

olive oil

sea salt

Toast the small bag of almonds in a pan with olive oil and sea salt until golden. Keep a close eye on them, as they can turn fast.

Set these aside to cool. They should turn crunchy.

Chop the cauliflower into small chunks. It’s up to you what size you want the pieces, really.

Sauté the pieces in olive oil until all of them are well coated.

Add the sliced garlic, mix in well, turn the heat up and as it starts to sizzle add 1 tbs water, cover and steam til just tender.

When it’s cooled a little, mix in the toasted almonds and the barberries.

Dress with olive oil and pomegranate molasses, have a taste to see if it's seasoned enough, then top with the yoghurt, a bit more molasses, and a few more barberries if you like.

Cauliflower and almond salad

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

There is a lady called Nisha Katona who has fast become one of my heroes. Not just as a food hero, but as a hero in general. Her food is stunning, and her attitude to business, people and life…well, it’s safe to say that I admire her greatly.

She posted something on Instagram recently that made me tear up a bit.

image

I knew what she meant, and felt it myself in my younger years, that my kitchen was much more strong smelling than other British ones I visited but it still made me sad that people should still feel that inadvertent yet ingrained shame about the smells of their own culture’s food. This is a screenshot from Nisha’s Instagram feed; she owns a string of Mowgli restaurants that have taken the Indian food scene by storm, and rightly so. People love her food, proper home cooking, her family recipes, the real street food, out there for all to see and taste and smell. But even with all that success, all the love for her food, even she gets that knee jerk wince.

You see, Fenugreek is that herb, that smell. I think it’s what people in this country classified as ‘the curry smell’. Fenugreek is a clinger. The loud, vivacious friend that you really love having around, because it’s not a party without them, but who never takes the hint that now might be the time when you really want to go to bed. They just…stay. Not in the way as such, but just…there.

It has been a bit of a bone of contention for many. Its very nature is to cling, to envelope the kitchen, the house and the curtains with its scent. It simply wants to be in everything, to be everywhere that you are. 

My friends at school often apologised for ‘smelling Indian’. When I went to some houses, they actively winced when the door opened.

Nisha, and her cuisine, and her Maa of course, are beauties in my eyes. The cuisine always has been, for as far back as I can remember, going to school as I did with people of all Indian creeds and colours. And yes, I do remember a friend apologising for the smell of her house, but little did she know how exciting I found it, how tantalising. I’ve never forgotten her downcast, awkward face as she said it, or the huge, white-toothed smile almost splitting her face in two when I said I didn’t care because I wanted to eat what she cooked, find out all about it, and learn how to do it myself.

I know how hard it is to be one of the only brown kids, and to have your lunch peered at and gawked at, but now thank god, I care not a jot. I have berated many a person for calling out ‘Yuk’ on another person’s food, and will never hesitate to do so again. I’ve had my fill of people who call houmous ‘tile grout’, and who wrinkle their noses at stuffed vine leaves or feta. The same goes the other way too. Fie on those who dismiss English food as all bland, or all brownbeige. Just because you are not used to it, doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you try it and don’t like it, fine! But don’t dismiss it out of hand if you’ve never even tasted it.

Nisha and others have brought delicious Indian home cooking out of the kitchen and into the mainstream, where it should take its rightful place, and for that I love and admire them wholeheartedly.

This is a dish that I cooked the day after I read Nisha’s post. I think I was feeling rather defiant. Call it a tribute. A very tasty tribute.

Fenugreek Fried Chicken

5 chicken thighs, skin on

3 tbs gram flour

2 tbs coarse semolina

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves

Oil for frying

Put 2cm of vegetable oil into a deep, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C). 

Mix the flours and spices together in a plastic bag, then pop the chicken pieces in.

Roll them around in the spiced flours until thoroughly coated.

Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover. Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes. Prepare a rack to drain the chicken.

Uncover, turn the heat up again, and fry the chicken until it's a deep golden colour on all sides. Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper. Allow to cool slightly before serving. It does stay crispy for quite a while, but it’s much nicer when still hot and juicy.

4 pieces

Singe piece

Close up

19/05/2017

Sabrina Ghayour’s Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

A long time ago I met a lady. I suspect we met via Twitter – as I have met many of my good friends – and we tweeted back and forth a lot. One day we had a sofa day at her flat, she cooked me Thai Green Curry, I met her lovely mum, and I think we realised that we thought alike.

No bullshit, no fancy airs, true to our real friends and LOVING the food.

Now, first a thing that I need to get off my chest. When I say ‘loving the food’, we are both damned capable cooks. Hell, she’s a chef, my goodness, you’d think that would mean someone can cook, but it doesn’t always mean they can cook food that makes me WANT it. Sabrina can, and does, with alarming regularity. But she also eats like your average person, too. I see those Haribo and those Scampi Fries.

Not every meal needs to be a gourmet feast, or a from scratch masterpiece. You might think that strange coming from me, as I cook from scratch so much, but that does not mean I am against shortcuts, or convenience foods.

There are days when it’s beans on toast, or shop bought pizza, a takeaway or even a crisp sandwich if I am that tired, and THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

I do not, and never will, hold with shaming people’s eating choices. Ever. You may worry about their health, and that’s understandable, but their health is nothing to do with you, plus you have no idea how their particular body works, so keep your opinion and your advice in unless they ask you for that advice. Even then, take it easy, unless you are actually a medically and nutritionally trained Dr.

If your workmates only want a cheeseburger or a Maccy D’s chicken sandwich for their lunch, that is their right to do so. Not everyone cooks, not everyone wants to. Just because you do, doesn’t mean they can, or even want to. Their choice. If they eat one every day, then that is still none of your beeswax, unless they spill it on you or get ketchup on your desk.

Keep your nose out of other peoples lunches, and eat your own.

Ok. Done.

Onto the recipe.

This is one of Sabrina’s recipes, a veritable Persian staple. She shared it on her website, quite recently, so if you head there, she’ll give you the history of this dish.

TLDR: everyone does it differently, nobody can agree, so do it the way you like. But do try it Sabrina’s way first, because it is truly delicious. Don’t worry about the amount of herbs, they work, and give you such a fresh, intensely vegetal dish. I’ve eaten it almost every day since I made it, and I love it.

Ingredients (plus the way I did it)

1kg lamb neck fillet, cut into ¾ inch chunks (I used leg, as neck fillets were nowhere to be found.)

1 tablespoon of ground turmeric

2 large white onions, roughly chopped

100g coriander, finely chopped, stalks and all

100g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, stalks and all

2 big, generous handfuls of dried fenugreek leaf (methi in Indian shops)

4-5 dried limes (or 6-7 preserved lemons, halved, pips removed)

2 x 400g tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed in a sieve

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Boiling water

Preheat a (very) large saucepan over a medium heat, drizzle in a generous amount of oil (it coated the bottom of the pan) and fry the onion until softened. Mine just started to catch around the edges, and wilted a bit.

Add the lamb and seal it, (this takes longer than you think, as there’s a lot of it,) then add the turmeric, season well with pepper and stir well. (Wear a pinny, turmeric does NOT come out of clothing.)

Add the dried fenugreek leaves and coat the lamb well in it, adding a little more oil if needed. (Yes, it is very pungent. Don’t worry about it, the taste becomes a lot more gentle.)

Next, add the fresh herbs and stir fry them until completely wilted so they have turned from a bright vibrant green to a dark and thoroughly wilted almost-forest green, although without letting them burn. (I think this took around 15 minutes for me.)

It is so important to wilt the herbs down properly as this is what will enable the sauce of the stew to have the right consistency, so ignore everything you know about keeping things green and vibrant, this is the Middle East and we do things differently. <---- this cracked me up. It’s true.

Then, season the whole stew generously with Maldon sea salt* (you should check seasoning again about an hour into cooking time) and then prick the dried limes and add them to the pan (if using preserved lemons, add them in just 30 minutes before you serve) and cover the contents with just enough boiling water to barely cover the meat and reduce heat to a low-medium heat and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

I like to check in on the stew after 20 minutes to ensure its not on too high a heat, before leaving it for the remaining cooking time. Do not be tempted to add more water, a slightly thicker herb sauce is what you want to achieve. If your sauce looks like its drying out, reduce the heat (especially if using gas) but also remember that placing a lid on top of the pan will ensure you preserve/increase liquid volume inside the pan.

I covered mine initially as lamb leg needs a bit more cooking, but did the whole thing on a gas diffuser, and cooked it for about 3 hours, uncovered for the last half hour, which is when the kidney beans went in.

The fenugreek melds in with the other herbs, and the whole becomes a fresh but soft flavour, with the rich undertones of lamb, and the fresh herbs become almost spinach-like.

The colours as you cook and when the dish is finished are simply gorgeous.

 intermediate Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi

I served mine with plain buttered rice, but it is perfectly fine on its own. A spritz of fresh lemon over the dish is good too.

 Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi with rice

This is definitely something I will cook again, once I’ve worked my way through my freezer stash, though I have to cook it when my husband isn’t around as he really doesn’t like that fenugreek smell. It does hang around a bit, I agree, and I think it’s lovely but I really do understand why he doesn’t like it.

So – go try it! Have fun! Sabrina’s first two books, Persiana and Sirocco, are already out there, and there’s a third on the way soon.

*Maldon has a mild flavour, whilst still having that salt tang.