Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Harissa

Often, what you pair a dish with is every bit as important as the main element itself. You wouldn’t, for example, serve a steak and kidney pie with a bowl of steamed Basmati rice. Because we eat a lot of Middle-Eastern dishes, we get through a lot of couscous, but I have to be careful not to put the couscous on the table first, because my family love it so much they will just eat it all by itself.

If you are not familiar with it, couscous are small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. You can also use it as the basis for a salad: just add some salad leaves, perhaps some chick peas and always, always (in my house), a little harissa on the side to add spice and heat. You can use ready-made preserved lemon and harissa, but I always use home-made – the links are in the recipe below – and the results are incredible.

This has to be the easiest recipe I will ever put on this blog, in terms of both simplicity and speed. I make no apologies for that, great tasting food doesn’t have to be difficult.

preserved-lemon-couscous.jpg

RECIPE 

75g of dry couscous per person

just boiled water, 1.5 times the weight of couscous (so 112g of water per 75g dry serving)

1/4 tsp bouillon powder per person

some preserved lemon peel

harissa, to stir through


METHOD

Weigh out the appropriate amount of dry couscous, depending how many people are eating. Put it into a saucepan for which you have a lid.

Chop up the peel of your preserved lemon, into 5mm dice. How much you use is entirely up to you, I tend to use the peel of half a lemon when feeding four.

Measure out the appropriate amount of bouillon powder (you can get vegan bouillon, if you need it) and stir it through the dry couscous. Add the chopped preserved lemon peel and stir it through thoroughly. Boil the kettle, and immediately after it has boiled add the appropriate weight of water to the pan. Stir thoroughly and vigorously and quickly put a lot on the pan. Set aside for at least ten minutes, the couscous will absorb the water and the flavours will mingle.

When ready to serve, fluff it up with a fork and transfer to a warmed serving dish if you like. We only ever do this if we have company, otherwise we dig in straight from the pan. Serve with whatever Middle-Eastern dish you fancy, with a jar of harissa ever-present alongside it.

Advertisements

Saffron Rice with Barberries, Pistachio and Mixed Herbs

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, magazines, recipes ripped from newspapers and magazines, and downloaded from the internet. It can make choosing what to eat more of a problem, not less, so when I’m stuck for inspiration I have a few strategies: I might pick a book or magazine at random, and just cook anything and everything that sounds delicious. Or I might go into the larder and pick out an overlooked, forgotten-about ingredient and find recipes to use it with.

This last strategy came into play this week, when I found a pot of dried barberries lurking, doing nothing. It was a good move, I made two absolutely divine dishes with them, which went together perfectly: a yellow split pea and aubergine stew, which I found in an old Jamie magazine, and this, from Yotam Ottolenghi’s delightful book ‘Jerusalem’.

Barberries are tiny, sweet-and-sour Iranian berries that add a real hit of intensity to Middle Eastern dishes. You can get them online, and from Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t find barberries, use currants soaked in a little lemon juice instead, or dried sour cherries also make a great substitute.

Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio and mixed herbs.jpg

RECIPE serves 6 (modify amounts to suit) 

40g unsalted butter

360g basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained

560ml boiling water

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

a pinch of saffron threads, soaked for 30 minutes in 3 tbsp boiling water

40g dried barberries, soaked for a few minutes in freshly boiled water with a pinch of sugar

30g dill, roughly chopped

20g chervil, roughly chopped

10g tarragon, roughly chopped

60g slivered or crushed unsalted raw pistachios, lightly toasted


METHOD

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the rice, making sure the grains are well coated. Add the boiling water, a teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Mix well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to uncover the pan – you need to let the rice to steam properly.

Remove the pan from the heat – all the water will have been absorbed by the rice – and pour the saffron water over about a quarter of the surface, leaving most of the rice white. Cover with a tea towel, reseal tightly with the lid and set aside for five to 10 minutes.

We are not big fans of saffron, some people just aren’t. If this also applies to you then consider finely grating a couple of centimetres of fresh turmeric root (now very widely available from larger supermarket chains) and soaking in a couple of tablespoons of hot water. The flavour is heady and aromatic, it makes a perfect substitute wherever you are called upon to use saffron.

With a large spoon, transfer the white rice to a large bowl and fluff it up with a fork. Drain the barberries and stir them in, followed by the herbs and most of the pistachios, reserving a few to garnish. Fluff up the saffron rice in the pan, then fold gently into the white rice – don’t over mix: you don’t want the white grains to be stained by the yellow ones. Taste, adjust the seasoning and transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Scatter the remaining pistachios on top and serve warm or at room temperature.

Vegetarian Gravy

Most great gravy recipes are based on the juices from roasted meat. When cooking for vegetarians that is, of course, out of the question so, how do you pack flavour into a vegetarian gravy?

The key is to remember that gravy is just another word for sauce, and the French have spent hundreds of years creating and refining the art of sauce-making. Taking cues from that tradition, making a thick, rich, glossy and flavourful gravy isn’t hard at all.

As with all cookery, building flavour is a simply a matter of understanding where flavour comes from, and sensibly layering it into the sauce. The caramelised onions provide the base flavour, the butter adds richness and unctuousness, the wine brings aroma and the Marmite and mustard bring punch.

This gravy is not second-class, it has become my regular go-to recipe. You can (as I have) fearlessly serve it alongside roasted beef or a nut roast and everybody will be delighted.

gravy.jpg

RECIPE makes enough for six people

2 onions, thinly sliced

50g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

100ml Madeira or Marsala

600g dark vegetable stock

1 tsp Marmite (or similar yeast extract)

4 tsp vegetarian gravy browning (Bisto is vegetarian-friendly)

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a small knob of butter to finish


METHOD

In a large pan, melt the butter with the oil (the oil prevents the butter from burning) then fry the onions over a medium-high heat until they are well coloured and starting to catch. Stir frequently but not constantly.

Meanwhile, prepare and heat the vegetable stock and add the Marmite to it.

Add the Madeira/Marsala to the pan and it should bubble vigorously, for a bit of fun you can set light to the alcohol fumes as they bubble off – just be careful. Scrape any caramelisation from the bottom and sides of the pan, then after a minute add the vegetable stock and bring it to the boil.

While bringing it to the boil, combine the gravy browning with the mustard powder and then add a little water to make a thin paste. When the gravy is boiling, add the paste and stir constantly until the gravy is thick.

Sieve out the onions, and test and adjust the seasoning. You can now leave it to sit until you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, reheat the gravy and when it is hot add a small knob of butter and whisk it in until the sauce is glossy. Transfer to a warmed jug and serve.

Yorkshire Puddings

They are big, they are ugly, and they are light and delicious!

Yorkshire puddings are one of those things that people tend to struggle with. They either don’t rise, or they collapse, or they’re greasy and chewy, or all three. It doesn’t need to be that way, you just need three things: a good batter recipe; well-developed gluten, and heat.

The key is time. If you are going to be cooking a roast dinner at, say, 5pm, then make your Yorkshire pudding batter at lunchtime. If you give your batter a good long beating and then plenty of time to sit, then the gluten in the flour will develop, giving the puddings lots of strength. You also need plenty of heat; heat when you add the batter to the tin, and lots of heat in the oven. The batter will spring up, and as the heat hardens the mixture the strong gluten will enable them to hold up and they won’t collapse. There is no need to use self-raising flour, or any raising agent at all. If you get plenty of air into the batter then that will do the trick.

The result will be great big puddings that literally leap out of the tin. They will have lots of air in them so they will be light, and not at all stodgy. Try it, you’ll never look back!

IMG_1481

RECIPE makes 12

115g plain flour, sifted

a pinch of fine sea salt

2 large eggs

140ml whole milk


METHOD

Several hours before cooking (or the night before, just leave the batter in the fridge) sift the flour into a mixing bowl with a pinch of fine sea salt. Lightly beat the eggs together, and start to whisk the flour and salt gently before you add anything else.

While whisking, gradually add the eggs, with a little of the milk, to make a smooth paste. When all the eggs have been incorporated, gradually add the rest of the milk, increasing the whisking speed. Obviously this is much easier if you are using a stand mixer. When everything has been added then whisk the mixture at high speed for three minutes or so, this will get air into the mixture and also work the gluten in the flour. Now just leave the batter to stand, and go and do something else with the rest of your day.

When the time comes to cook, get your oven up to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7. This might not be possible, or advisable if you are cooking something else in there at the same time, but get it as hot as you dare. In a 12 hole metal muffin tray, pour a little vegetable oil into each hole and put it into the oven for a few minutes to get hot.

Go back to your batter and give it a final whisk for a minute or so, to wake it up and ensure that everything is evenly distributed.

Take the muffin tray out of the oven and put it on the stovetop, with a burner underneath it on a high heat. This will keep the oil very hot while you work.

Now, quickly – but carefully – ladle the batter into the muffin holes, filling each approximately half-full.

Quickly again, put the muffin tin back in the oven, close the door and DO NOT OPEN IT FOR 20 MINUTES.

After twenty minutes, you will be greeted with the best Yorkshire puddings you have ever eaten. I promise.

Sauerkraut

I am a total beginner when it comes to home fermentation, though it is a topic that has intrigued me for a while now. I was pushed to actually give it a go a few weeks ago when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme that gave a fermentation masterclass by Sandor Katz.

sauerkraut.jpg

I now have a 2 litre jar of home-made sauerkraut fermenting away – flavoured with juniper berries, caraway seeds and fenugreek seeds – and I have to tell you that it is delicious right now, and I believe that it will only get better. The trick is to keep on tasting it, every few days, until it is exactly how you like it then put it in the fridge to drastically slow the fermentation. Of course if, like me, you’re a newbie to kraut then you have no idea how you like it, so it’s all an experiment. I’m just going to keep it going as long as I can, I’ll soon figure out how I like it – if it lasts long enough. I’m already finding uses for it: as a condiment, tumbled over soups, tossed through salads and – my favourite so far – scattered over cheese on toast. I’m going to see if I can make use of it as a stock base as well; truly, the only limit seems to be your imagination.

So, what’s it all about, and how do you make it? I’ll let an expert tell you, here is Sandor Katz:

“The fermentation of cabbage into sauerkraut is not the work of a single microorganism. Sauerkraut, like most fermentations, involves a succession of several different organisms, not unlike the life of a forest, in which a series of different trees follow each other as the dominant species, each succeeding type altering conditions to favour the next. The fermentation involves a broad community of bacteria, with a succession of different dominant players, determined by the increasing acidity.

Do not be deterred by the biological complexity of the transformation. That happens on its own once you create the simple conditions for it. Sauerkraut is very easy to make. The sauerkraut method is also referred to as dry-salting, because typically no water is added and the juice under which the vegetables are submerged comes from the vegetables themselves. This is the simplest and most straightforward method, and results in the most concentrated vegetable flavour.”


RECIPE – by Sandor Katz

1 kilogram of vegetables per litre. Any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables.

Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Other seasonings as desired, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, dill, chilli peppers, ginger, turmeric, dried cranberries, or whatever you can conjure in your imagination.


METHOD – by Sandor Katz

Prepare the vegetables.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results.

Salt and season.

Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with de-chlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.)
Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).

Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar.

Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert. Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.

Wait.

Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months. Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.

Enjoy your kraut!

I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.

Tips…

Surface growth – The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or moulds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.

Develop a rhythm – Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment!

Variations – Add a little fresh vegetable juice and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . .hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered Brussels sprouts… cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit… the possibilities are infinite . . .

Seeded Crispbreads for Cheese

These crispy flatbreads tick all the boxes: they’re easy to make, they’re great fun for making with children, they keep really well (in an airtight container), they’re endlessly variable (experiment with different kinds of seeds: poppy, hemp, mustard, fennel, coriander… anything!) and, most importantly, they’re deliciously moreish. They are suitable for everyone as well, being vegan and gluten-free.

flatbread.jpg


RECIPE – Makes about 30

200g fine polenta

40g milled flaxseed or linseed

40g whole flaxseed or linseed

40g sesame seeds

75g sunflower seeds

75g pumpkin seeds

flaked sea salt

80ml olive oil

450ml just-boiled water


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/ gas 2. You will need 2 large baking sheets and some baking parchment.

Mix the polenta and all the seeds together in a large bowl. Add a generous pinch of sea salt and the olive oil, mix well, then add the just-boiled water and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together as a sticky dough.

Divide the mixture in two, on two large sheets of baking parchment (large enough to cover your baking sheets). Place another sheet of baking parchment on top of each half of the mixture, press and roll the dough out between the parchment sheets until it is nice and thin. Remove the top sheet of parchment and place the bottom parchment, with the rolled out dough on it, onto a baking sheet. Score lines into the rolled-out mixture to enable you to easily snap it into even, individual flatbreads once it is cooked. Season lightly with a little more sea salt.

Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes until it is golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before breaking it up into individual pieces.

Satchini Pomme D’Amour

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking. I have been steadily working my way through ‘Sunshine on a Plate’ by 2012 UK Masterchef winner Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com). It is one of those glorious books where you want to cook absolutely every recipe.

This is a simple, refreshing chutney that seems to be a constant presence on Mauritian tables. It works particularly well alongside Shelina’s butter bean curry, making a delicious dish even more delicious!

SatchiniPommeDAmour.jpg

RECIPE – Serves 4 as a side dish

4 ripe tomatoes

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

approx 3 tbsp of finely chopped fresh coriander stalk

1 tbsp vegetable oil

flaky sea salt, to taste

finely shredded coriander leaves


METHOD

This chutney works best when it has a fine texture, so either chop the tomatoes finely by hand, or carefully pulse them in a food processor until they are the size you want (having gone a little too far with the food processor on one occasion, ending up with a smooth tomato paste, I found that this also makes a delicious ketchup!)

Combine the rest of the ingredients with the finely chopped tomatoes, season carefully and serve immediately.

Simple Roti

These simple, unleavened flat breads have no business being as delicious as they are. They are extraordinarily filling as well.

roti.jpg

RECIPE – Makes 10

300g plain flour

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp fine sea salt

150ml water


METHOD

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. You may need to add a little more water, or a little more flour; the dough should be pillowy and slightly (but not excessively) sticky.

Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into ten equal balls, and on a lightly-floured surface press the balls into rounds as thin as you can make them.

Cook them, one at a time, on an extremely hot skillet very lightly brushed with oil, for 1 minute each side.

Keep warm, wrapped in a tea towel, in a very low oven until they are all cooked and you are ready to serve.

Spiralised Sweet Potato Fries

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to eat. The main element generally isn’t a problem; I might like a pie, or some pasta, some fish or whatever, or I might have something in the fridge that needs to be eaten before it goes off. No, the problem that I often have is figuring out what to have alongside the main element, something interesting, different and, most importantly, complementary.

A few nights ago I had the reverse problem, there was a lonely sweet potato sitting there needing to be eaten. Now, there are a lot of things I can do with sweet potato, but if I am going to be feeding more than one person then I need more than one. As usual I hit the books for inspiration and found this idea in a few places, a little tinkering with the various interpretations led me to this: the perfect side dish for fish (particularly tuna steaks) or chicken, and you can also treat them like (crunchy) noodles and serve alongside Asian flavours. It also allowed me the rare use of my spiraliser, one of the few ‘gadgets’ I allow in my kitchen.

A few tips: use the largest size of spiraliser blade that you have, otherwise they can become dry and bitter rather than sweet and crunchy. Use 2 tbsp of cornflour per medium-sized potato because they can be quite moist and the cornflour encourages them to go crispy and, perhaps most importantly, leave them for a good quarter of an hour before you eat them because it takes that long for the crunch to fully develop once they are out of the oven.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can julienne the potatoes to get the same effect.

sweetpotatofries.jpg


RECIPE  

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and spiralised

2 tbsp cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Thickly spiralise the sweet potato, or cut into thin strips. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornflour then add the oil and toss again until everything is coated.

Spread the sweet potato on the parchment, ensuring that as much as possible it sits in a single layer otherwise it will tend to steam and won’t get as crispy.

Bake for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking, and leave to sit for 15 minutes before eating – you can eat them immediately, they just won’t be as crispy as they could be.

Sliced Roasted Potatoes with Tomato, Oregano and Basil

My kitchen smelt like Italy yesterday evening, as this delicious gratin released its sumptuous aromas into the atmosphere. It reminds me: I must renew the seals on my oven.

I originally found this recipe in Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Two Greedy Italians’, made it. loved it, then promptly forgot about it as I got busy cooking other dishes. What an error; this should have been flagged in my notebook as something to enjoy at least once a week.

The flavours are simple, but marry together exceptionally well. The trick here is to use lots of cherry tomatoes, and to ensure that at least half of them have been de-seeded, otherwise it’s just a little too wet. Cooked this way it has a delicious crunchy topping with layers of soft but firm potato and onion waiting for you underneath.

It is perfect alongside seared tuna or salmon, and with a simple salsa it only requires a few good handfuls of rocket to make you smile.

kudfhgu.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 4 

100ml olive oil

700g thinly sliced potatoes

approx 2 tsp dried oregano

flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large handful of roughly-torn basil leaves

400g red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

600g cherry, or baby-plum tomatoes, halved. Half of them de-seeded

1 tbsp dry vermouth

For the salsa:

1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs for garnish

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan /Gas 4. Slice the potatoes; use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise. Otherwise, slice them – very carefully – as thinly as you can. Also prepare the tomatoes and onion.

In a large, oven-proof dish, drizzle 3 tbsp of the olive oil over the base and then place a thin layer of sliced potato. Sprinkle 1/3 of the oregano over the top and season lightly.  Scatter a thin layer of basil leaves, then a single layer of sliced onion followed by a mixture of tomatoes, some de-seeded and some with seeds in. Drizzle with a little more oil, then repeat the layers twice more: potato; oregano; a little seasoning; basil; onion, then tomatoes. Drizzle with a little oil to finish, with the vermouth.

Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and gently loosen the bottom layer of potatoes. Put back into the oven, uncovered, for a further 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the lightly crushed fennel seeds, shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you de-seed and chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Allow the potatoes to rest while you cook your fish, then serve on warmed plates with the salsa and a simple rocket salad.