22/03/2018

Leftovers Live To Feed Another Day

I’m not one to throw much away, unless forced to by mould (and then not always) or circumstance, so when I have not quite one serving of a really good dish, I want to make it into something equally as satisfying, and maybe have enough to freeze some.

I’d made a Lamb, Leek and Chickpea stew, and wanted to eke out the last bit of it. There was a good just over half portion left, so I bulked it out with more vegetables, and lots of fresh, green herbs.

1 medium aubergine, cut into 2cm cubes

200g slim green beans, topped and tailed and cut into 3 (or 2 if they are small)

2 tbs tomato puree

salt

small bunch of fresh mint

small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley

zest of 1 lime

1 tsp chicken or veg stock powder to add depth

2 tbs olive oil to add richness

Put the cubed aubergine into a dry frying pan. Start to toast it adding a little olive oil here and there to help the browning process along.

Add about a cup of water to the leftover stew, then pop in the beans while the aubergine is browning. 

Add the tomato puree and mix it in well.

When the aubergines are browned and starting to collapse, add them in too, and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt. 

Chop all the herbs together finely, and stir them in as well along with the lime zest.

I let that cook down for about 30 minutes, tasted it and thought the liquid was a bit thin, so added 1 tsp of stock powder for depth, one spoons of ajvar (more tomato puree will do), 2 tablespoons of olive oil for richness and a touch more salt.

Cooked it for another 30 minutes on low, and there it was, done.

Note: I would imagine that the basic lamb and leek stew can be turned #vegetarian or #vegan just by using Quorn mince or soya mince. Add in some nutritional yeast to get a bit more depth of flavour, and a little smoked paprika, and cook off the mince with the yeast, paprika and tomato puree first to get a good caramelisation on it. There are very good kosher stock powders out there that mimic meat flavours and richness, but aren’t meat based.

Dinner

Jazzed up leftovers

20/03/2018

Istanbul and Beyond: Inspirations. Lamb, Leek and Chickpea Stew

I’m currently reading Istanbul & Beyond. There’s so much more to Turkish cuisine than the meat and salads that we usually see here.

“Standing at the crossroads between the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia, Turkey boasts astonishingly rich and diverse culinary traditions. Journalist Robyn Eckhardt and her husband, photographer David Hagerman, have spent almost twenty years discovering the country's very best dishes. Now they take readers on an unforgettable epicurean adventure, beginning in Istanbul, home to one of the world's great fusion cuisines. From there, they journey to the lesser-known provinces, opening a vivid world of flavours influenced by neighbouring Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, and Georgia.”


Map

The book takes you through so many regions, and shows you how much things differ. It pretty much makes you hungry in every part of that vast nation. Yes, there’s breads, and amazing cheeses – not just feta style and hellim (halloumi) – but there are so many dishes that you just don’t see in restaurants. Recently I ate at a Turkish restaurant in London, and made a beeline for the one thing on the menu I had never heard of, especially when they said “It’s what our grandmothers cook at home.” Sold. Immediately. That’s the food that I really want to know about, and Istanbul & Beyond brings you that.

For more, go get the book. Really. It’s beautiful, and learned; kind and generous like the peoples it writes about. You may find yourself inspired like I was.

I’d read a recipe involving slow braised leeks, and happily I had two fat leeks waiting to be used. I also knew I had some lamb mince, and I always have a tin of chickpeas knocking around. Off we went.

This is a gentle dish, quite soothing, and easy to eat. Even though the broth has such a rich colour, it’s actually quite light. (It will set up a bit when cooled, due to the lamb fat.)

400g lamb mince – fatty is good

2 leeks trimmed of any hardened leaves

2 tbs Turkish red pepper paste (use mild or spicy, your choice, most Turkish shops stock this)

1 tbs tomato puree

1 400g tin of chick peas

1 tsp pul biber (most Turkish shops stock this too)

1/2 tsp turmeric

water

salt

Add the lamb to a large pan, and cook until it turns brown. Don’t drain the fat off, it’s all flavour.

While that’s cooking, split the leeks into quarters lengthways, then cut into 2 inch pieces. Wash thoroughly to get rid of any sand.

Once the lamb is browned, stir in 2 good spoons of the pepper paste and the tomato puree. Mix well, and cook it out for a few minutes.

Add in the leeks, mix very well to coat, then cover the leeks three quarters of the way with water.

Add in the chick peas, and the spices, then stir well to combine.

Cook until the leeks have all wilted down, probably around 50 minutes or so.

Season with salt to your taste.

You can leave this to cool, and lift out any fat if you wish but…well, I certainly do not.

Serve with either feta or thick, strained yoghurt, and a good amount of bread to dip in the sauce.

Panful

Stew with feta

Stew with yoghurt

18/03/2018

Ajvar

The things I do for my colleagues.

Ed mentioned that when he’d been on holiday in Croatia, he’d had this gorgeous dip made of aubergines and red peppers, and was bemoaning the fact that he hadn’t been able to find it since. I was pretty sure I’d be able to find a recipe, and I knew I had peppers and aubergines, so that was my task for the weekend all set.

Wikipedia lists ajvar as:

Ajvar ([ǎj.ʋaːr], Serbian Cyrillic: ajвар; Bulgarian: aйвар; Macedonian: aјвар) is a pepper-based condiment made principally from red bell peppers. It may also contain garlic, eggplant and chili peppers. Ajvar is used in the Balkans in Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Gottscheerich, Macedonian, Serbian, and Slovenian cuisine. In Serbia, it was long known as "Serbian salad"[1] or "Serbian vegetable caviar".[2] It became a popular side dish throughout ex-Yugoslavia after World War II and is nowadays popular in Southeastern Europe.

Homemade ajvar is made of roasted or cooked peppers. Depending on the capsaicin content in bell peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet (traditional), piquant (the most common), or very hot (ljutenica). Ajvar can be consumed as a bread spread or as a side dish. If it contains tomato, then it is called pindjur.

The charring of the vegetables – especially the aubergines – gives a gentle smoky back note, so to me that’s a non negotiable part of this recipe. Of course you can bake them in the oven, but I’d suggest blasting them under the grill, too, to get the char. (You can actually buy pre smoked, skinned aubergine in jars in many Turkish supermarkets, look for the jars marked patliçan. It doesn’t look terribly appetising but oh the taste…)

jarred aubergine

There do seem to be as many ways to make this as there are people who make it, so in the end after lots of internet reading, this is they way I did it. Colleague ate the whole lot in one sitting, so I think it worked! I didn’t add hot peppers to mine, as I don’t like much heat, and colleague hadn’t specified. Better to err on the side of caution.

2 medium to large aubergines

5 red peppers (I used a mix of bell and pointed)

1 whole bulb of garlic

olive oil

salt

1 tbs vinegar

I put the aubergines on a gas flame diffuser, as it gives them a steady platform to char. They do have a tendency to roll about, otherwise.

I balanced a couple of peppers on there too, and then got out The Blowtorch.

Yes, I was serious about getting that smoky, charred taste. Plus, it’s fun! It’s a blowtorch! Okay so maybe not everyone blowtorches peppers at 0800 on a Sunday morning, but it had been a hard weekend and fire made it all better.

Once they all had a good level of char all over, I put them in the oven with the whole bulb of garlic, drizzle the lot with a bit of olive oil, and cook them down until the garlic was soft enough to squeeze out of its casing.

I tipped the whole lot into a bowl, and put cling film over, then left them to cool down.

Once they were cool enough to handle, I scraped the flesh out of the aubergines, and took the seeds out of the peppers. Yes some of the charred aubergine skin got in, but hey ho. It all adds to the taste.

I did not peel the peppers, as they were all going to go into a food processor anyway, along with the softened garlic, and get blitzed to a smooth pulp.

Then the vinegar went in, and instantly the smell changed to the one I was familiar with, from when I’ve bought jars of ajvar from my local Turkish shop.

I tasted it, added a little more salt, and another tablespoon of oil, then called it done.

Into two small airtight Tupperware boxes it went, and into the fridge to sit for a few days.

Cue one very happy colleague, which was my aim. It was a pleasure to watch him dig right in with a crusty baguette. 

Good use for a gas diffuser

Crackles and blisters

All the colours

Finished sauce

Raymond Blanc’s Slow Cooked Squid with Chorizo

Squid is one of those things that I always associate with charcoal grills, holidays and blazing sunshine. I’ve only ever eaten it grilled or deep fried, so I thought I’d give it a go in a different dish to see how it changed the taste. I know that with squid the rules are that you either cook it as fast as you can, or long and slow. Anything in between and you have rubber bands, and nobody wants that.

I found Raymond’s recipe on the BBC website. As ever, a joy to watch. I didn’t have all the things that he used so, yes you guessed it, I winged it. I wanted to bulk it out more, too, so added chick peas in, and left the garlic out as I wanted a more gentle taste.

1 large white onion

olive oil

1 tbs tomato puree

1/2 cup Commandaria wine (use what you have. That’s what I had.)

1 400g tin of good quality chopped tomatoes

300g squid tubes, cleaned and skinned (thank you Ocado)

1 tin chick peas, drained

100g chorizo (mine was plain, not the picante one) cut into 1 inch pieces


Peel the onion, cut in half, and chop into thick ish slices.

Sauté off in some olive oil until it starts to soften, then add the tomato puree.

Stir and fry that until it is well mixed in with the onion.

Add the wine, turn the heat up so that the wine boils for a minute or so, then turn the heat back down to low.

Add in the tomatoes and the chick peas, then the chorizo.

While that’s simmering, slice the squid tubes open, lightly cross hatch the skin with the back of a dinner knife, then cut into large pieces.

Pop that in to the sauce, pushing down so that it is covered well, put a lid on and then leave it to cook on a very low heat for 1 hour.

After one hour, the squid will be tender, and will have soaked in a lot of the chorizo flavour, and vice versa.

I actually left mine overnight, and then gently reheated it the next day.

The flavour of the squid is very pronounced, a lot stronger than when you flash fry it, and I realised that it was missing that char grill taste that I loved so much, so I did what any normal person would do at 8am on a Sunday, and got the blow torch out.

Adding that charred edge to the pieces took it from a good dish, to an excellent one that I will most definitely make again. I might use white beans next time.

first stage

  Final char

17/03/2018

Cauliflower, parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke and coconut soup

This was one of those soups that came about because I had things I really needed to use up. It was cold and snowy, and I love having a big pot of soup on the stove plipping and pootling away gently. I know that seems like a lot of coconut, but it was a large pot of soup!

You will need a blender or a processor, as this is a smooth soup.

1 head of cauliflower, broken into pieces

6 baby parsnips or 2-3 average sized ones, peeled and chopped into large chunks. (I just chopped the baby ones into 3 bits)

5 Jerusalem artichokes, roughly peeled

1 block creamed coconut (I used Biona, but any one will do)

chicken or vegetable stock powder – I used 2 teaspoons of Essential Cuisine chicken, made up to 1000ml of stock, but then I also added more liquid later as the coconut thickens the soup up a lot.

1 tsp pul biber (soft heat Turkish chilli)

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp Lebanese 7 spice

1 tsp sea salt

Coconut milk in case you need to thin the soup down


Bring the stock to a simmer, and gently pop in the cauliflower and the parsnips.

While they are softening, roast the artichokes off on 170C Fan until they soften and the edges start to brown. I had bacon fat left over in my pan, so I used that, but you can use olive oil too.

When the ‘chokes are soft, pop them into the soup too then add your spices.

Chop the coconut block up, and stir that in to the soup mix.

Once everything is soft, and the coconut has melted into the stock, leave it to cool down before you blend it in batches.

Taste it to see if you want any more spices, or salt.

Ladle it into the blender, half of it at a time. If it’s way too thick, you may need to add more water or so coconut milk to get the blades to turn so you need some extra room in the machine.

You can blend it to be as smooth as you like. I like my soup very smooth, like a thick, velvety cream.

You could warm chunks of tofu in here, or halloumi, too.

Personally I think it would be good topped with crispy fried onions or shallots. Or bacon. Because bacon.

Jerusalem artichokes

Roasted chokes

Spices 

Panful of soup

11/03/2018

Review: Ishtar, Marylebone

As you turn into Crawford Street, a waft of scented shisha smoke greets you gently. I love that smell, because you know that, pretty much, there will always be very good food indeed nearby.

I have a bit* of a love affair with scents and tastes of Middle Eastern food. Cyprus was invaded by everyone, so our foods have a lot of Arab and Moorish influences, and some of the words used in Cypriot Greek still hark back to those occupations**, so when Mum moved to North Cyprus I was excited to be able to learn even more about the foods from the Turkish table. It’s a vast cuisine. Turkey is a nation that straddles Eastern Europe and western Asia with cultural connections to ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Hurrah  says I, because that means even more recipes.

Going back to the short walk along Crawford Street towards Ishtar, the shisha smoke and a smell of hot charcoal on the breeze boded well for the dinner to come. I am very happy to report that I was not mistaken in that view.

From the outside, especially on a dark evening, Ishtar looks warm and welcoming, and it didn’t disappoint.

Front of house

They couldn’t find my booking at first, as it had been booked under Cookwitch, and I’d said my actual name, but even so they just sat me down, fussed over me and made me very welcome, despite not knowing if I even had a booking or not. I was having a clumsy day, and I think I dropped or knocked over at least 3 or 4 things, but the lovely Selin put me at ease.

When my partner arrived, and we were settled with drinks, we perused the menu. Perused in the true sense of the word***.   I know I’ve eaten a lot of Turkish food, but there were some things on the menu that I’d never heard of, which makes me very happy.

Zyuleyha, our very patient waitress, explained anything we didn’t understand, and let us sit and discuss at length what we wanted. The manager, Serhat, came to greet us with smiles and handshakes which, far from being just for us, was how he greeted everyone in the restaurant.  It made us feel truly at home and welcomed.

Eventually we decided on our starters.

Silky smooth houmous and spiced olives were brought out, along with some warmed, nutty tasting wholemeal bread. I managed to avoid my usual pitfall of eating all the bread with the dips, because I definitely wanted to leave room for dessert.

Houmous


They’d also brought us a dish of kisir, which is a traditional salad that gets brought out at every restaurant meal I’ve had in Cyprus. The main ingredients are bulghur wheat, parsley, and tomato paste but it can be quite spicy, too. Ours had tangy, sticky pomegranate molasses, spring onions and lemon and, to my relief, no chilli. This one was more rich than others I’ve had, and I thought it was actually far better than most. The addition of a dark puddle of the molasses just made for a brilliant contrast of flavour against the smooth richness of the tomato paste.

Kisir


Kisir with molasses

Patlican ezme for me, because I am a total fool for aubergine.  This is a dish of chopped, smoked aubergine, garlic and yoghurt. It wasn’t at all overpowering, and had a pleasant woodsmoke background note from the aubergine. Mixed in with very creamy yoghurt, and with a nice hit of garlic – but not too much.Parlican

IMG_0475

This was a dish I could have eaten all on its own, with a large spoon and some bread. In fact, I did, so here is a photo of the almost empty bowl.


Kalamar for Simon, which was large pieces of very tender and fresh tasting squid, beautifully crumbed, and sautéed in garlic and parsley with their house tartare sauce. (At this point we discovered that the knives felt really odd when we used them. The handle is aligned horizontally to the blade, so keeps feeling like you are holding it the wrong way, when  in fact you aren’t. If you hold it the way that feels right, the blade is actually on its side, and turns in your hand very easily.)

Kalamar

Choosing a main was even more difficult, and I was sorely tempted by stuffed chicken with chestnut sauce, and flank steak on smoked aubergine, but eventually I went for Meyveli Kuzu; lamb poached with apricots and pears, served over couscous. (It was actually served over bulghur wheat, which I prefer to couscous anyway.) This is an Ottoman dish, more redolent of what might be cooked at home. The lamb pieces needed no knife, you could just split them with your fork. There were flaked almonds in amongst the pears, apricots and prunes, and their bittersweet, toasted flavour lightly scented everything. As a true almond lover, this made every mouthful a little piece of heaven, and I think I zoned out for a while each time I ate a forkful. Yes it has sweet overtones, but it is still a savoury dish. There was enough fruit to add balance, but it didn’t overpower.

Meyveli Kuzu

Simon decided on kofte with garlic yoghurt and bulghur wheat, served on a very thin piece of flatbread that caught any meat juices. I tasted a bit, and while they were spiced, and very meaty, they retained a light, slightly crumbly texture, and were still juicy.

Kofte (grilled minced lamb served on garlic yoghurt, with flat bread) at Ishtar, Marylebone

Dessert…well…there was only one choice for me, and that was their speciality of kunefe. This is the Turkish variant of the pastry kanafeh, and the wiry pastry shreds are called tel kadayıf. You often see them wrapped around a nut and cinnamon mixture, looking like miniature Dougal dogs.

A semi-soft cheese such as Urfa peyniri (cheese of Urfa) or Hatay peyniri (cheese of Hatay), is used in the filling. The kadayıf pastry is not rolled around the cheese; instead, cheese is put in between two layers of kadayıf. It is cooked in small copper plates, and then served very hot in syrup with clotted cream (kaymak) and topped with pistachios or walnuts. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it really does. The cheese had such a clean, fresh taste, that it contrasted perfectly with the sweet, crisp, buttery shreds. It also wasn’t overly sweet, which was a boon for me. I’m not a huge fan of sugar syrups on pastries, preferring them to be light and crisp with a bit of sweetness, not a full on sugar hit. This one did not disappoint. The ice cream that came with it was a good vanilla, and there were three pieces of fruit on there too that gave a lovely hit of sharpness after you’d finished the kunefe. 

IMG_0495


Kunefe (sweet shredded phyllo filled with mozzarella cheese sweeted with syrup, topped with vanilla ice cream and cracked pistachio) at Ishtar, Marylebone

All in all, I will say that this was a really lovely, and delicious, evening out, and one that we will absolutely repeat, because we want to go back and work our way through the rest of the menu.

Thank you to Serhat, Selin and Zyuleyha for making it a perfect evening.

http://www.ishtarrestaurant.com/ (this has auto starting sound)

Disclosure: We ate as guests of Ishtar.


*understatement of the decade

** Watermelon is karpouzi - From Ottoman Turkish قارپوز‏ (karpuz, “melon”), from Persian خربز‏ (xarboz, “melon”) and likely influenced by Greek καρπός (karpós, “fruit, grain”), both from Ancient Greek καρπός (karpós, “fruit, grain, produce”)

*** peruse verb formal  - to read (something), typically in a thorough or careful way.