Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 round-up

Best new Brixton opening
There have been a few recent arrivals in Brixton which have garnered considerable press.  By contrast, the chocolatier Paul Wayne Gregory, trained in Paris and maker of the Queen’s 80th birthday truffles, just turned up one day in a little sliver of a shop in Market Row. There are beautiful desserts, highly credible salted caramels and some superlative passion fruit ganache, all a five minute walk from our door.

Favourite new products
Following in the wake of the hipsters, I’ve been dutifully tromping through the optimistically named “Bermondsey Spa” most Saturday mornings, finding a new way to get turned around each time, but also discovering both some great new vendors, and outposts of Borough favourites (particularly Neals Yard Dairy and Mons Cheese) which are far less crowded than the originals. Three highlights:

Heather honey from the London Honey Company

Lots of India Pale Ales at the Kernel Brewery

Chicken from Fosse Meadows at The Butchery

Most enjoyable read
Notes from Madras, Colonel Wyvern (1878). Wyvern wrote for Englishwomen abroad and their native cooks, explaining how to prepare both Anglo-Indian and European foods.

Greatest recipe
Lamb pizza from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. This may be no better than the fish cakes in spicy tomato sauce, or the hummus or stuffed peppers—all superlative. It gets the nod for perfectly recreating the soft, pliable dough of the lahmacun I ate in Istanbul last winter, and pairing it with a topping that is at once sweet with caramelised meat, crunchy with fresh herbs and sharp with pomegranate.

Best eating moment
A breakfast of chilaquiles—eggs, refried beans and tortilla chips covered with a cooked red salsa, garnished with sour cream, cotija cheese, avocado and coriander (cilantro)—at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Market, while watching the fog clear over the Bay Bridge.

Most memorable drink
Ruinart champagne at the Royal Opera House, just moments after receiving my engagement ring.

Sleeper hit
A custom mix of Formosa Lapsang Souchong and Higgins Breakfast tea from HR Higgins. We’ve been drinking their Creole Blend coffee for years; this is fast becoming the house tea: smoky, smooth and mouth-filling without being tannic.

Best evening out
A “Shambolic Sherry Tasting” put on by our local wine shop and held in a freezing upstairs room at the Dogstar pub. There were half a dozen non-sherry pours from natural wine importers, Les Caves de Pyrene, including a Savennières and a Jura chardonnay made in a vin jaune style, and quality nibbles aplenty. The sherries came thick and fast, and ranged from the merely very, very good to the absolutely exceptional (in the form of a rare Palo Cortado). We met a wine consultant working in Kazakhstan too, and heard all the gossip on the Brixton restaurant scene. And all for £7.50.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Brussels sprouts hash with eggs and sage

Brussels sprouts yields are down in the UK this year, with a threat of needing to import so that the Christmas-celebrating population can buy the vegetable that no one likes, but someone would miss if they skipped.

Usually just (over)boiled, and served with butter, maybe with perfunctory additions of chestnuts and pancetta, it’s unsurprising that there’s little demand for sprouts outside of late December. It’s a shame, though, as their natural sweetness and crunch lends both to serving them raw and finely sliced in a salad, or keeping the slices equally thin and applying heat and seasoning to get them caramelised, even a bit charred.

David Chang (he of Momofuku) has a recipe for pan-fried sprouts doused in a punchy, fish sauce and chilli-laced dressing, which sounds like a great match for grilled fish or chicken. But for now, I’m stuck on this hash, which I’ve happily eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I’d imagine bacon and/or bacon fat would work quite well here. Goose or duck fat, which I sometimes have on hand, adds a nice savoury note. As for cooking the eggs, you could also poach them separately and place them on top of the hash. The only absolutes: slice thinly, season well and don’t stint on the sage.

Brussels sprouts hash with eggs and sage
Adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 2 for a hearty breakfast (scale up for lunch or dinner)
Total time: 20-25 minutes; Active time: 10-12 minutes

250g Brussels sprouts
1 small banana shallot (or part of an onion)
6 sage leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs

Trim and finely slice sprouts into thin shreds. Dice shallots and half of the sage leaves.

Turn on the grill (broiler) to a medium heat.

Heat olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining sage leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until leaves are crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to a paper towel.

Add the sprouts and shallots to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are fully softened, and the sprouts have turned bright green, then begin to caramelise and lightly catch, 7 or 8 minutes

Create wells in the vegetable mixture and break in the eggs. Turn down fully, cover with a lid, plate or board and cook for a few minutes.

Place the pan under the grill, cooking until the eggs are just set. Season again, grate over parmesan to taste and garnish with fried sage leaves.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Jerusalem, and lamb meatballs with quince

I’m very late in joining the Yotam Ottolenghi bandwagon, having been vaguely aware of his Guardian columns, cookbooks and beautiful, vegetable-driven cafes for years without feeling any particular interest in exploring further. It all seemed a bit too pretty, precious even. But a one-off TV programme he did last year, entitled Jerusalem on a Plate, suggested that I had been far too quick to dismiss him. In championing the food of his native city, he came across as fiercely smart, inquisitive and with an intuitive feel for food that was not just pretty to look at, but seriously tasty.

His new cookbook, Jerusalem, co-written with his business partner, Sami Tamimi, explores the city’s polyglot cuisine, taking in its Palestinian, North African, Central Asian, Levantine and Central European influences, amongst others. They highlight iconic local dishes like kubbeh (semolina dumplings stuffed with meat and poached in soup, served in luncheonettes in the Machane Yehuda market), Jerusalem mixed grill and chocolate kranz cake, while also playing with regional staples like topped flatbreads, dips and chopped vegetable salads, making them sharper and more interesting.

The cookbook is beautifully photographed and gently informative about Jerusalem’s culinary, social and political history.  Almost all instinctively appealing, the recipes consistently deliver. From long peppers stuffed with herbed rice and lamb mince, to fish cakes poached in a spicy tomato sauce, a distinctively upgraded spanakopita and hummus made far creamier and airy than I thought possible (the trick is to blend it in a heavy-duty food processor for a full 5 minutes), the book is delivering winner after winner. Even a simple-sounding carrot salad well exceeds any I’ve made before. Although we’ve only had it for two months, Jerusalem is already becoming one of the most-used on our cookbook shelves, as well as the holiday gift of choice.

If only he did weddings.

Lamb meatballs with quince, pomegranate and coriander
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
Total time: 60-70 minutes; Active time: 30 minutes
Serves 4
Special equipment: large, lidded frying pan

400g minced lamb
1 garlic clove
Small bunch coriander
Small pinch Turkish chilli flakes
50g breadcrumbs (ideally soft and fresh)
1 tsp allspice
1 egg
Small knob fresh ginger
1 lemon
4 medium quince (about 1.3 kg)
2 onions
3 tbsp olive oil
8 cardamom pods
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp sugar
500 ml chicken stock
Seeds of ½ a pomegranate
Additional coriander (optional)

Place the mince in a large mixing bowl. Mince the garlic and coriander add, along with the chilli flakes, breadcrumbs, allspice and egg. Finely chop about a tablespoon of ginger and add as well. Season well with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Roll the mixture into balls about the size of a squash ball and set aside.

Squeeze a bit of the lemon into a bowl of water. Peel the quince, core and chop into small cubes, placing them into the acidulated water as ready. Chop the onion finely, along with the remaining ginger.

Heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the onion and ginger, along with the cardamom, and sauté for 10-12 minutes, until the onion has softened and begun to change colour. Add the molasses, a good squeeze of lemon juice, sugar and stock. Season well. Add the meatballs and pieces of quince and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is fully cooked, the quince soft and beginning to turn a peachy-pink, and the sauce is well thickened.

Serve over couscous, bulgur or rice, sprinkled with the pomegranate seeds and, if desired, more coriander.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pistachio and olive oil cake

This is the kind of cake that pleases all comers, without being wholly predictable. It can easily stand alone, but would also take well to crème fraiche, a scoop of good vanilla ice cream or even some Greek yogurt, some raspberries, cherries or apricots at one end of the seasonal spectrum and citrus at the other.

I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t use almonds, but the colour and perfume of the pistachios is worth the admittedly small splurge.

Pistachio and olive oil cake
adapted (barely) from Diana Henry in the Telegraph
Serves 8
Total time: 70 minutes; Active time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: food processor or (clean) coffee grinder

150g (5½oz) unsalted pistachios 
50g (1¾oz) soft bread crumbs
285g (7oz) caster sugar 
2½ tsp baking powder 
2 lemons
4 medium eggs
200ml (7fl oz) olive oil 

Grind 115g (4oz) of the pistachios to a slightly coarse powder using the food processor or coffee grinder. Pour into a large mixing bowl and add crumbs, 200g of the caster sugar and baking powder. Zest one of the lemons and add.

Break the eggs into a separate bowl and beat lightly. Pour in the olive oil and combine, before adding this to the dry ingredients.

Scrape into an oiled and base-lined 20-23cm (8-9in) cake tin and place in a cold oven. Set the oven to 180°C/350°F and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. The cake should be well-risen and lightly browned, and the sides slightly coming  away from the tin.

While the cake is in the oven, juice the lemons into a small pan. Add the remaining sugar and 100ml (3½fl oz) water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for five minutes.

Turn out the cake, peel off the paper and place on a plate. While it is still warm pierce all over with a skewer. Slowly pour on the syrup and leave to cool and sink in.

Bash up the remaining pistachios by placing in a sealed bag and crushing with a can or mallet. Scatter over the top of the cake just before serving.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Kohlrabi slaw

I was in a particularly suggestible mood at the farmer’s market last Sunday. It not only felt like summer, with temperatures warm enough in mid morning to make long sleeves unnecessary, but it looked like it too. Tomatoes were finally the right colour, and at a price that encouraged over-buying. Berries were abundant as well, likewise broad beans, peppers, courgettes and cucumbers. Aubergines made their first appearance.

Kohlrabi wasn’t an obvious fit in a basket of  more Mediterranean ingredients, but it got a good talking up from one of the vendors, who compared its taste to radishes and affirmed it could be eaten raw, thinly sliced or grated. And at 70p apiece, it was hardly an expensive experiment.

Once home, a bit of reading confirmed my suspicion that kohlrabi takes well to all sorts of slaw-like treatments. The most popular approach seems to be to combine it with similar quantities of carrot and white or green cabbage in variations on a standard creamy, vinegar-based or mustardy coleslaw. (I think the last of these could be particularly good with an extra spoonful of caraway seeds.)  I was also intrigued by a recipe in which it substituted for celeriac in a remoulade. Another well-regarded combination drew on the kohlrabi’s similarity to daikon and dressed it with rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.

I ended up swapping it out for the green cabbage (hard, crinkly or soft) in a Mexican-inspired salad and served it as a topping for black bean tacos. Should summer be making more than a fleeting appearance in your parts, I’d imagine it would also pair well with spicy grilled meats.

Kohlrabi slaw
Total time: 15 minutes; Active time: 15 minutes
Serves 2 generously
Special equipment: mandoline with a julienne attachment

1 kohlrabi
½ bunch coriander
2-3 spring onions
1-2 fresh chillies (preferably red for colour contrast)

Set your mandoline blades to cut julienne slices.  (We used the middle of the 3 julienne blades, but any julienne width should do.)

Cut off the protruding stems from the kohlrabi and peel off tough layer of outer skin. Slice into chunks that will run easily across the mandoline. Using the hand guard, cut the kohlrabi into julienne slices. Add to a bowl large enough for the slaw to be tossed and served.

Remove the largest stems from the coriander and roughly chop. Top and tail the spring onions and cut into thin slices. Add the coriander and the spring onions to the kohlrabi.

Deseed the chilli (depending on heat and tolerance) and finely chop. Add to slaw.

Season to taste with lime and salt and mix well. Allow a few minutes for the flavours to combine before serving.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Jerk chicken

While Brixton, the neighbourhood in which I’ve lived for 7 of the last 10 years, is home to Poles, Columbians, Portuguese and Anglophone Africans, its largest minority, and certainly its most prominent one—in both historic and culinary terms—is from the English-speaking Caribbean—the West Indies, Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica. The main square is named for the Windrush, the boat that brought Jamaicans to British shores in 1948. (The new arrivals were sent to temporary homes set up on Clapham Common, and came to nearby Brixton to utilise the Labour Exchange.) Dozens of green grocers and corner shops sell the staple ingredients of Caribbean food: scotch bonnet chillies, thyme, pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, coconut milk, curry powders and rice, while fishmongers have tall piles of red snapper and other tropical varietals and the butchers do a good trade in mutton and slow-cook cuts. There are some modest take-away joints, selling chicken stews, rice and beans and such unpromisingly named dishes as mannish water and hard food, and on dry, mild days, charcoal-filled oil drums let off a fug of jerk chicken-scented smoke.

Yet despite this proximity and abundance, we very rarely cook or eat any Caribbean food, nor, if I’m perfectly honest, have we expressed particular curiosity about learning more about its ingredients, variations found from island to island or which Brixton joints serve up the best versions of classic dishes. I don’t expect that this is all about to change, but some conversations with the owner of a new Brixton joint, Brian Danclair, about what he finds exciting about the food of the islands, prompted us to see what we could do, sans oil drum, to make a credible jerk chicken.

We picked up some pale ales from Market Row Wines (less authentic than Red Stripe, but arguably tastier too), chicken wings from the farmers’ market and got to work on the marinade. The next evening, we made coconut rice dotted with a mix of gungo peas, black eyed peas and kidney beans, sautéed some greens and put the chicken under the grill until it was well-browned and reasonably crispy. The result? Complex, spicy and a lot of fun to eat, all for very little cooking or shopping effort.

Next up? Brown stew chicken or, should Ginger Pig get back its supply of cubed goat, curry goat.

Jerk Chicken
Adapted from Food Stories
Total time: 25 hours; Active time: 30 minutes
Serves 3-4
Special equipment: plastic gloves; food processor

If you have a proper barbeque, by all means use it, referring to Food Stories or another good source for guidance. I relied on the grill in my oven, starting on a lowish temperature (say 150C), with the rack half-way down to get the meat cooking through, then raising both the rack and the temperature to get the skin crisp, and to encourage caramelisation. Particularly with larger cuts of chicken, you could also try roasting, then finishing off under the grill.

1 kg chicken thighs or meaty wings
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
5-6 spring onions
3 scotch bonnet chillies
100g dark packed brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Juice of 2 large limes
1 tsp salt
Black pepper

Rinse the chicken, pat dry and place in a large Ziploc bag. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. Strip the thyme from its branches. Cut the spring onions into large pieces, removing the bottom core. Place these in the food processor.

Wearing plastic gloves, cut open the scotch bonnets and remove seeds. Place the chillies in the food processor. Add the sugar, spices, lime, salt and pepper. Mix to a smooth paste, scraping down sides as necessary. Pour into the bag with the chicken, seal and shake well to coat.

Refrigerate for 24 hours.

When you’re ready to cook, allow the meat to come to room temperature.  If using a grill, preheat to 150C and remove the rack.

Shake or brush off the excess marinade from the chicken and place on foil or a foil-lined tray on the rack.  Position the chicken in the middle of the oven and grill gently for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is somewhat cooked and the skin beginning to turn colour. Over the following 10-12 minutes, raise the temperature and rack height to finish. Good caramelisation is desirable, but watch carefully as the sugar in the marinade will make it susceptible to burning. Check that the juices run clear before removing.

Serve immediately with rice or rice and beans, and sautéed greens. Leftovers can be stripped from the bone and served cold.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Salads for hot or cold

Last weekend, the lawn in front of our building was full of people sunbathing, and the air smelled smoky from all the barbeques being lit. Today, the brave souls heading out to see the Queen’s River Pageant will  have sweaters, umbrellas and, if they’re clever, flasks of hot tea.

English springs are usually variable, but this one has been more so than most: March temperatures in the high 20s, followed by the announcement of a drought and hosepipe ban and the wettest April in several hundred years. The last few weeks have featured elements of both. The plants are evidently confused too, with the first spring crops arriving weeks ahead of schedule, while others, like the asparagus, delayed and diminished by the endless wet.

Luckily, new-season potatoes and carrots seem to be readily available. They are the main ingredients in these salads, which are just as good hanging around in the sun at picnics as they are indoor alongside roast lamb or chicken or as part of a table of mezze.

Potatoes with cumin, caraway and harissa
Adapted from Moro 3
Serves 4
Active time: 15-20 minutes; Total time: 30 minutes
Special equipment: mortar and pestle

1 kg salad (waxy) potatoes
2 spring onions
1 small bunch coriander and/or parsley
½ garlic clove
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cumin seeds
¾ tsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp harissa
4 tbsp olive oil

Scrub the potatoes and cut into large bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the potatoes. Boil until tender, around 12-15 minutes.

While the potatoes boil, prep the other ingredients and dressing. Slice the spring onions and set aside. Pick leaves off coriander or parsley and chop. Peel the garlic and pound in the mortar and pestle. Add salt and spices and continue to turn into a paste. Finish by adding lemon juice, harissa and olive oil and adjusting seasoning to taste.

Drain the potatoes well and place in large serving bowl. Toss well with dressing and set aside until cooled slightly. Add spring onion and herbs before serving either warm or at room temperature.

Grated carrots with Turkish seasonings
Serves 4
Active time: 20 minutes; Total time: 20 minutes

½ kg young, tasty carrots
4-5 spring onions
Small handful ready-to-eat sultanas
Turkish pepper flakes to taste
Dried mint to taste
Juice of at least 1 lemon
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Coarsely grate the carrots with either a box grater or a food processor and place in a large bowl. Slice the spring onions and add, followed by the sultanas. Mix well to combine.

Season to taste with the pepper flakes, dried mint, salt, lemon and olive oil. The carrots will leach a bit of liquid when they sit, so it doesn’t need to be too wet. The mint is there to add a bit of freshness, the salt and lemon to counteract the sweetness of the carrots and sultanas, and the pepper flakes to bring complexity.