27/02/2018

To Fu or not To Fu…

(Sorry, had to be done.)

For some reason, I had decided that I was going to make my own tofu. No I have no idea why, but I just fancied having a go, so I did. This is what happens when I am left on my own at home for any length of time with access to an online supermarket.

All things considered (me being a tofu making novice) for a first attempt, and for an attempt that didn't have a tofu press in it, or any nigari with which to coagulate said tofu, I think I did ok.  If you did this kind of thing regularly, as I know quite a few people do, then it would be much faster as you would know what you are doing, and what to expect. For me it was a day of experimentation, blenders, large pots, rubber gloves, balancing acts and spillages, but we got there in the end. More or less.

To start off, you will need a blender as you have to blend the soaked soy beans to extract their milk. I don’t think that a food processor will get the beans fine enough. I dug the huge glass beast out from its place under the counter, next to the plastic bag storage box, and washed off the dust and cobwebs. Poor neglected thing.

1 cup dried soy beans

4 cups water

I soaked the beans overnight in the 4 cups of water. DO NOT SALT THEM.

The Next Day

1 blender

1 large lemon

salt

Clean jeycloths or cheesecloth (large enough to use as a bag for squeezing the pulp)

Colander

Bowl

High sided saucepan

Plastic Tupperware with holes punched in to drain off excess liquid. You could use a bamboo steamer, or one of these, so long as it is lined with the jeycloths. I actually used 2 plastic take out containers, one with holes made with a corkscrew.


My beans had soaked up around a cup of the water, so I added one cup back, and then poured the lot into the blender. It makes quite a satisfying noise.

Blend on low to get started, and then up it by one measure, and leave it running for a good 5 minutes. I noticed that it had separated after that and there was clear liquid at the bottom of the goblet, so ran it for another 5 minutes. It stayed milky after that second run.

I poured the whole lot into a large high sided pot, added half a cup of water to the blender, rinsed the residue out and poured that into the pan too. No bean left behind.

I brought it to a simmer on a medium high heat stirring all the time as it will stick. I did that because a far more learned person than I told me to. The smell of just blended soy beans isn’t dreadfully pleasant, quite astringent, but as you heat and stir everything, the smell changes to a more savoury, almost toasty smell. The mixture will foam up a lot.

I’d already set a colander lined with two large UNUSED jeyclothes over a bowl. The bowl catches the milk, and cloths capture the pulp.

Gently pour the foamy mixture onto the colander, and stir it to get all the milk through. The foam is weird, but it goes.

I wore rubber gloves to do this next bit, as it was hot.

Bring up the corners of the cloths and twist it together so you can squeeze as much liquid out as possible. Keep on squeezing, as the pulp left behind is useful. (I dried it out in a 90C oven for an hour or so until it crumbled, and used it to bind some veggie aubergine meatballs together.)

Eventually you will get bored of squeezing and call it a day.

Rinse the jeycloths, and clean the pot.

Put the milk back in, bring it up to a simmer again – MV says 180F/80C but I do not have a thermometer so when it bubbled all around the edges I called it - and add your coagulant.

The juice of half the lemon got stirred in very well, then the juice from the second half went in and I stirred it in far more gently, moving the spoon in a crosswise motion across and back, up and down, then left it for a good 15 minutes to half an hour. 

Everything separated. Hurrah! I ladled it into the prepped Tupperware and watched clear liquid drain off.

Once no more liquid was running out, I folded the cloth over and across it, stood another same sized Tupperware in it, placed that over the plughole in the kitchen sink, and then put two cast iron pots on it to press any last liquid out.

I realise I am lacking in photos of the process after the lemon juice was added. I was in no position to take any, as my hands and I were covered in bean juice, and I was strangely panicked about getting it all done fast.

I’m sorry. I have failed you.

Anyhoo.

I like my tofu very firm, which is why I used the two pots to press it. I think I left mine pressed for about an hour or so because I forgot about it. Well, look, Nigella was on TV and…

If you plan to make this a lot, then a tofu press is probably a wise idea. It’s best to have a tofu press if, to be honest, you are rather more than partial to neatness and symmetry in your tofu blocks. [raises hand guiltily]

Today I cut it into pieces, dusted it with salt and rice flour, then shallow fried it in vegetable oil along with some red pepper pieces, until it was crisp on all sides. I had shop bought fried onions in a tub, added them to dark soy sauce, and ate it all for lunch. PERFECT!

pre soaked beans

soaked beans

ready to blend

fresh soy milk

bringing the milk to simmer

jeycloth

jeycloth action

pressed tofu

dried okara

Fried tofu

25/02/2018

Non meat meatballs

My friend Cat recently made these, and foxed her friends because she’s vegan, and these looked a lot like meat in her post. After some confusion, and explaining, the recipe for these rather lovely aubergine and olive balls was shared. Cat’s was from the Abel & Cole recipe book, and the one I’d seen was from the superb website of Supergoldenbakes. Was I going to have a go? A recipe with olives and aubergines? Hell yes.

This is how I made it, with a few variations as I didn’t have the bread called for in the original recipe, or the herbs. I did have matzoh water biscuits, and dried soy bean pulp, from the tofu making experiment I’d done earlier in the day. I am aware that not everyone will have those on hand though!

I just served mine with the sauce, for a light dinner, but if you love pasta, then cook your favourite kind and toss that in with the tomato sauce to serve up as a more substantial dinner.

The Nonmeatballs

2 medium aubergines cut into small cubes

1 medium red onion, finely chopped (I actually used 3 very large Turkish spring onions that were looking at me reproachfully from the veg rack)

3 garlic cloves finely chopped

A handful green pitted olives – I had Spanish marinated ones, and they are quite punchy and very flavourful

100 g | 3.5oz breadcrumbs (as I had no bread, I used 60g water biscuits and 40g dried okara)

1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 tbs pesto (mine was not vegan, but the parmesan in it was made with vegetarian rennet)

1 tsp dried oregano

zest of 1 lemon

salt

olive oil to fry as needed

To make the nonmeat balls, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions, cubed aubergines and a pinch of salt. Fry, stirring with a spoon, for a good five minutes.

Add the garlic and continue to cook until the aubergines are nicely coloured and both they and the garlic have softened down a bit.

Blitz the bread (or crackers and okara) in a food processor with the olives until you have fine crumbs and the olives are finely chopped.

Add the aubergines, balsamic vinegar, pesto and lemon zest and pulse until everything comes together. Taste and season.

If it seems too dry, add a tbs of olive oil and blitz again. It should form a sort of dough ball.

Form into little balls with the aid of a cookie scoop to portion out, and your hands to roll them smooth and then leave them to sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

Make the tomato sauce while they are chilling.

1 can good quality chopped tomatoes (I love Cirio, or Mutti)

2 tbs olive oil

1 jarred chargrilled red pepper cut into strips (only if you want)

2 tbs pesto

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp sugar

Just simmer all the above ingredients together until the sauce is heated through and has thickened slightly.

Cook them balls!

Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Fry the 'meatballs' in batches until nicely coloured all over. You will need to add more olive oil if the pan gets too dry and do be gentle with the 'meatballs' – they are fragile. In the end I actually put mine in the oven, as my non stick wasn’t as non stick as claimed, and when I tried to turn them, the nice crunchy layer got left on the pan.

The smell of the garlic, lemon and olives wafting around the kitchen was just gorgeous, and I was quite impatient waiting for them to cook, but patience usually pays off, and it really did in this case.

I served 5 of them on top of my sauce, with a good dollop of pesto. After I’d eaten them, and sworn to make them again, I cooked the rest off, and they will serve as lunch or dinner for a couple of days. I think they would be excellent stuffed into warmed pita bread with salad and houmous.  

Mixture all blitzed

Scooped and rolled

Cooked off

Served up

24/02/2018

Journey Bread–Methi Roti–Thepla

Well, sort of. Apart from the fact that I didn’t have any fresh or even any dried methi. (Fenugreek) so ground it was.

Fenugreek is a herb that has staying power. It clings to you. Your hands, your clothes, your kitchen and your whole house if you use a lot of it, and don’t open the windows enough. For me, it’s the smell of my Indian friends'’ houses as I was growing up. It was all pervading, but you just got used to it. I admit, I like it, as it means something GOOD is cooking. I have enduring memories of ladies in elegant saris making roti, one perfect circle after another, time after time, almost without looking. It was a production line of one until the kids got old enough to do the roti flipping part.

When I saw these on Carla Tomasi’s Instagram, and remembered eating them as a kid and not being too sure about the greenery. Nobody could explain to me what it was, so I just ate it anyway, and enjoyed it very much so when I saw it on Carla’s feed, finally I knew what the green was! I didn’t have any in the house, but I decided to make the breads anyway. Anything with chick pea flour has a tendency to draw me in and their yellowy goodness was calling. Off I went.

Chapatti flour is made from hard Gehun (Indian wheat, or durum) flour. It is more finely ground than most western-style wholewheat flours so I decided to whizz my flour in a food processor first, to see if I could get it a little more fine. While it was in there, I thought I might as well do the whole recipe in there too! Saves on washing up.

100g wholewheat flour

100g plain white flour (If you have proper chapati flour then use 200g of that)

50g chick pea flour

1 tsp oil (I used sunflower)

1/2 tsp chilli

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped fresh methi leaves or 1 tbs dried (I only had ground fenugreek)

Warm water (you add this bit by bit until the dough comes together, so go slowly.)

Extra oil or melted ghee for brushing the thepla in the pan (I admit, I love the flavour of ghee)

The wholewheat flour went in first, and I blitzed that for a few minutes, then added in the other two flours and blitzed it all together for another few minutes, just to mix.

All the spices and the salt went in, quick pulse to mix, then the teaspoon of oil.  If you add an extra teaspoon of oil, it makes them as bit more pliable for longer.

With the mixer on low, I added the water slowly until the flour started to come together as a ball of dough and stopped as soon as it did. I’d add it a tablespoon at a time, just to be sure.

Gather it all together on the work surface, and give it a good knead. If it seems a little dry, wet your hands and continue kneading until it’s all smooth and you can shape it into a disc.

Cover it and leave it to one side for 15-30 minutes to relax a bit.

Divide it into equal portions – I had eight of them.

Roll each one into a ball, and one by one, flatten them with the palm of your hand, and roll out into a 5-6 inch disc about 2mm thick. Perfect discs are not important.

Set out a clean tea towel.

Heat a dry flat bottomed frying pan or griddle on a medium heat until a drop of water on it scoots about a bit.

Place the first thepla on the hot pan. Leave it to cook for a minute, then flip it over. If it has brown spots on it, all good, if not, flip it back to cook some  more.

When you flip it, brush oil or ghee onto the cooked side.

Flip it again to see if the second side is cooked, and if it is, brush that with oil or ghee also. I do I recall my friends’ mums putting the roti onto the open gas flame to give it a bit of extra puff, so I do it too. It gets a really nice toasted flavour. Obviously if you don’t have gas, skip that step!

Set them one by one onto the towel, and wrap to keep warm.

I recall my friend's mum putting the cooked roti into an empty round metal spice tin, and putting the lid on so the steam kept them soft. I don’t have one of those, so a towel it is. If they are to be kept overnight, I wrap them when they are still warm in a plastic bag. That seems to stop them going hard.

I was ridiculously pleased with these! So please, in fact, that I immediately wrapped two of them around some very crispy bacon with some brown sauce. It was DELICIOUS. I think I know what tomorrow’s breakfast is going to be…

Dough balls

rolled out

Nestled in a towel

Arty side view

MMMbacon

bacon rolls

23/02/2018

Dizi: Persian Lamb Stew, a variation

Since watching Nigel Slater’s Middle East, my poor brain's been utterly full of the foods cooked during the three episodes of that lovely programme. (Only 3. I WANT MORE!)

To be honest, I think my grey matter has jumbled everything up rather, so the ingredients I bought last weekend became a dish 'inspired by' rather than 'from' that series.

I had a small boned and rolled lamb breast joint in the freezer, so I thought I’d use that. Long slow cooking is what it needs. The recipe for Dizi usually calls for the meat, potatoes and chick peas all to be mashed together, but I’m not really a fan of that kind of texture, plus I needed it to keep well for a while, and I just wasn’t sure that a mashed meat mixture would fare well in the fridge for a few days. It needs to be eaten when it’s warm and luscious, ready to be scooped up with soft flatbread.

So here is my Persian inspired lamb and chick pea stew.

1 small lamb breast joint, unrolled and cut into pieces around 1-2” square

2 large white onions, cut in half and sliced into half moons

2 tbs olive oil

3/4 tsp turmeric

1 can chick peas

1 large baking potato, skin on, quartered

4 dried limes, pierced a few times with a sharp knife or skewer (careful, they are hard)

1 bunch fresh parsley

1 bunch fresh mint

1 large bag of baby spinach leaves

1 tsp sweet red pepper

1 tsp dried mint

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp veal stock powder or a lamb stock cube (to compensate for the lack of lamb bones)

Salt to taste

2 tbs tomato puree (I admit, I forgot this bit!)

Fry the sliced onions in a large stock pot, in roughly 2 tbs olive oil. Let them cook down on a low heat until the onions are soft.

Add in the lamb pieces, and the turmeric. Stir well to coat, and cook for a few minutes.

Cover the onions and meat with water. (At this stage you can let it cook for about an hour, then let it sit overnight, if you want to skim any fat off, or just carry straight on.)

Add in the drained chick peas and the potato, make sure the potato quarters are covered, pop in the limes, and leave to simmer for a good 2 – 3 hours.

When the lamb is tender, remove the limes, and squeeze their juice back in to the pot. The liquid had reduced a bit, so I just added a little water.

Chop all the herbs finely, and add them, along with the spinach, dried mint, stock powder and the sweet red pepper. Mix in the tomato paste if you remember!

Leave to simmer until all the greens have wilted right down and the lamb is tender.

Taste again, and add salt if you think it needs it.

Mine was a little too sour for me – I may have been too enthusiastic in my use of the limes - so I added some sugar and that evened it out perfectly.

This seemed to be even better the next day. A soothing, gold and green pot of comfort. The lime spikes through any fattiness, and the mint wafts up to you as you spoon it hungrily into your mouth. The lamb is tender, but it still retains some chew which, when eaten alongside the softened heft of potatoes makes it a very filling one pot meal. Definitely one I will make again, maybe with lentils next time.

1 Onions

 2 Lamb pieces

3 Lamb onions and turmeric

   4 Stock chickpeas potato and dried limes

5 Mint and parsley

   6 Spinach cooked down

7 finished dish

07/02/2018

Stuffed Peppers

Sometimes, you just get a hankering for something, and there it is in the shop, looking at you all bright and shiny. I love red and yellow and orange peppers, although I never used to, but green eluded me. I find them bitter, most of the time, but then I had them chargrilled at a Turkish restaurant, and was able to cope with a small amount. Over time I’ve got used to them, but not enough to eat them raw. Still too bitter for me that way, but I can eat them if they have been cooked until they’re properly dead. They mellow, and surrender their bitterness to become soft and tender, with a hint of sweetness.

I had a traffic light set of 3 that had called to me, and I knew I had Turkish sweet red pepper paste that needed using, so off I went.

3 peppers, the stalk end cut off to form a lid and the seeds and membranes inside removed

1 cup of bulghur wheat

1 tbs red pepper paste (or you can use tomato puree)

1 tbs olive oil

1 grated carrot

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt (do not stint, bulghur needs salt)

1/2 tsp onion salt

1/2 cup extra olive oil

Measure one cup of medium bulghur in a measuring jug, then cover it with boiling water up to the 1.5 cup measure on the jug.

Add in the paste, spices, carrot, salts and oil and mix everything really well. Don’t worry, you won’t damage the wheat.

Let it sit, covered with cling film, until the water is all absorbed.

Stuff the peppers with what you can, then place the rest of the wheat in the base of a lidded casserole, stand the peppers in it, pour over the extra half a cup of oil - and quarter cup of water then bake for a good 2 hours until they collapse a bit.

It's cooked, but not soggy, so hopefully the steam from the peppers and extra bit of water in the dish will fluff it all up.

I baked them at 170C fan for 2-3 hours, until the peppers were very soft and tender.

They are even better left overnight and heated up the next day, or even the day after.


Stuffed bulghur peppers raw


Stuffed bulghur peppers cooked


Stuffed bulghur pepper and feta

04/02/2018

Chicken, Garlic and Trahanas soup

There are days when you wake up, bounce out of bed and think “Yes, I can face the day.”

Then there are days when you wake up, bounce out of bed, and slowly realise that no, today is not one to be faced, it’s going to be one to be endured because at some time in the night, a cur made its way into your room, sandpapered your throat, stuffed dripping cotton wool into your sinuses and abandoned you to your headachey fate.

You know that there is nothing you can do. It’s in, and it’s about to settle. The best you can do is make the following days bearable. Before the AARGH I WANT TO SCRUB MY SINUSES WITH STEEL WOOL feeling sets in, stock up on Kind To Your Nose tissues. It’s worth it. Lip balm also stops a mistreated nose becoming too sore. (Do not use a minty one. Really.)

Make sure you have lots of drinks available because constant nose running makes you dehydrated, take your vitamin C dose, and buy in some good quality chicken soup.

Or if you are me, make chicken soup and feel a sense of achievement because you know you have food for the new few days when even putting a dressing gown on feels like a marathon wearing concrete gloves and boots.

I always keep chicken thighs in the freezer as they are quick to cook, retain far more flavour for stock than the breast, and have the best skin to crisp up in the oven afterwards.

There’s a quick method for a light chicken soup which I’ll write up first, as it’s a bit of a lifesaver.

1 chicken stock pot (I use Knorr as I think they taste the best)

500ml water

3 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 chilli, chopped (totally optional)

1/2 tsp turmeric

Simmer all of this together until the stock pot has dissolved, and the spring onions are soft, then drink out of a mug. You can add in quick cook noodles broken into small pieces if you want it to be more filling. I’m always one for feeding a cold, so I also made a more substantial soup.


Chicken, Garlic and Trahanas Soup

Trahanas is a brilliant way of preserving something for later use. It was mainly a way to preserve and use up excess milk, and when you have wonderful sunshine, you make use of it. It’s also a fabulous way to bulk out a thin soup, and make it into a filling, sustaining meal. I don’t know how long it keeps, I just know that it does. 

You can buy it in most Greek or Middle Eastern stores, or can sometimes get it online here or here or here.  I admit, I bought mine in Cyprus. Sorry about that. However, if you cannot get trahanas, you can just add rice or small pasta shapes to your stock to bulk it out, and add a squeeze of lemon for tang.

100g trahanas, soaked in cold water until it breaks apart. I can’t tell you how long, as each brand varies. My one took an hour but some do take longer.

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks (you want big bits so you get to eat those)

1 stick of celery, finely chopped as this one is for flavour, not for texture (chop up the rest of the celery and keep it in the freezer, it works great to add in to sauces and stews from frozen.)

2 tbs olive oil

5 or 6 chicken thighs, skin on

1 tbs dried marjoram

3 fat cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

1 tsp chicken stock powder

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp pul biber (Turkish red pepper)

Put the carrot and celery into a pan with the olive oil, and cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add in the chicken skin side down, and cook until there’s a good colour on the skin.

Add in the dried marjoram (don’t worry if you think it smells strong, it cooks out as quite a sweet herb).

Cover the chicken thighs with water, pop in the three garlic cloves, bring to the boil then reduce to a very low simmer and cook, covered, for at least 3 hours. Leave it puttering away while you do other things.

At the end of 3 or 4 hours, lift the chicken out and set aside. Don’t discard it, as it is beautifully tender and full of flavour. I roasted them off afterwards and they were delicious as a snack, or you can shred the meat and add that in to the soup when you serve it.

Add the trahanas and its soaking water into the pan, mix in the teaspoon of chicken stock powder, the turmeric and the pul biber.

Simmer for 30 minutes until the grains are softened.

You can cut up cubes of halloumi and warm them through in the soup if you like, or just eat it as is, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

It will set overnight, but just add more water to thin it down again. It’s very forgiving.

Chicken Garlic and Trahanas soup

01/02/2018

Burns Night Treat

I am not a fan of food waste, I never have been. I think it stems from being the slop bin monitor in the school dinner hall. It was our job to scrape off the uneaten food from the plates into  a huge bin, and I think it shocked me to the core to see how much was thrown away, lots of it untouched, so I tried never to waste food, if I can use it in some way.

I cooked a haggis for Burns’ night, and there’s always leftovers as it is such a filling thing. I know many people pull faces at it, but oh my, it is delicious. It’s like an oversized, very savoury sausage, but one where you don’t eat the skin, you just spoon out the insides and serve them with mashed potatoes, swede and gravy, like savoury mince. I’d eat it way more often than I do, if I could buy it more easily.

On this occasion we did rather well, and only had a few spoons of mash and haggis leftover, but I was not to be thwarted, despite there only being a small amount.

I had bacon. Bacon makes everything better. I had bought some Scotch rolls in the Co-op on the way home, as I knew I could use them up for the following night's tea.

4 rashers of streaky bacon.

2 tbs haggis

4 tbs mashed potato

Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan until crisped on both sides. Set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

Mix the leftover mash and haggis together very well. You have to squish it together properly so that it holds its shape, when you form it into a burger.

Heat the frying pan and bacon juices up again, place the patty down onto the pan, and leave it alone. You want to cook it enough so that it forms a good solid crust.

Turn it over in one swift movement when the crust is nicely dark brown.

When both sides are brown, set aside with the bacon.

Put the leftover gravy into the pan, whisk in 1 level tbs plain flour and keep stirring and heating until it’s very thick. You can tip off any excess oil if you like.

Spread both sides of the roll with the gravy, place the patty on the bottom half, top with the bacon, pop the lid on, and devour.

(Yes, that is a stray pea in there.)

Haggis burger i