Gastrobabble

A quest for gastro-liberation, an excuse to buy more cookbooks…


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From slow to fast now, like a gastronomic foxtrot. Weeknight dinners which are fuelled by the need to feed your dearest ones quickly whilst getting drowsy on sloe gin and strawberries should be the kind of thing that you construct whilst blathering away at the kitchen counter. This was inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe.

Having a two-week old aubergine in my fridge instead of a jar of roasted aubergine deterred me not. Pierce your aubergine and char it on an open flame on your cooker. Once the flesh is soft and gives to a gentle poke of the finger, peel off the blistered skin and mash the flesh with two teaspoons of tahini; the juice of half a lemon; a scant teaspoon of dried chilli flakes; and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Mix in 75g of crumbled feta and a handful of chopped mint. On two toasted wholemeal pittas, scrape on a coating of tomato purée before topping with the aubergine and feta mix. Crumble on some more feta before grilling on a medium heat for 10 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil and top with basil before serving. By then it’ll be time to top up your gin and scarf down your pitta pizza whilst not skipping a beat in conversation. Good work.


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Adagio

Were you to ask any of my dearest ones to describe me in a handful of adjectives, I’m not sure that ‘quick’ would number amongst them. Sure, I can come up with a ropey pun or single-entendre at speed. I’ve been known to tumble over my words from time to time. I tend towards speed rather than sloth when in a car. But I am still a girl who didn’t make it past stage three of the beep test in PE at school; I gave up on any instruments which required me to read notation because I couldn’t read and play fast enough; and I’ve only just begrudgingly realised how much I love the music of Taylor Swift. However, this weekend’s cooking has proven to me that haste isn’t the virtuous child.

Slow-cooking is geriatric in terms of gastronomic fads. It was the sort of thing that was being championed by The Guardian when I was but a zygote. However, being wedded to roast chicken as my roast of choice and also only becoming a fan of lamb in recent years, it’s taken me a while to get here. The unrelenting heat of an oven on a low-gas mark does that thing to meat that being fiercely sun-beaten on holiday does to you. It just relaxes. Positively oozes off the bone and pours itself into your gob.

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Slow-roast Moroccan lamb with aubergine and chickpea stew

Look, I’ve said “Moroccan” but I have no idea whether that’s accurate or not. That’s just what I had in mind when I was raiding my spice cupboard. I knew I wanted that fierce kiss of heat and the arresting hit of cumin running through the whole thing. To my way of thinking, my mind is led towards Morocco. Indulge me and my wonky geography.

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Ingredients

For the lamb

a shoulder of lamb (approx 1kg)

two cloves of smoked garlic

fennel seeds

cumin

paprika

salt and pepper

oil

For the stew:

two romano peppers

two aubergines

a red onion

two cloves of smoked garlic

cumin

chilli flakes

paprika

cayenne pepper

a stick of cinnamon

a bay leaf

sugar

red wine

a can of chickpeas

two cans of chopped tomatoes

tomato puree

sriarcha sauce

a bunch of mint

lemons

Preheat your oven to gas mark 3 / 170c and make sure your lamb is room temperature before you throw it into the oven (you know this already, I KNOW. Sorry for backseat driving in your kitchen). Prepare your spice rub by crushing your garlic in a pestle and mortar with some sea salt. Add in the rest of your spices (I know, I haven’t included quantities. I tend to be bold and heavy-handed on the cumin and chilli. You just want the lamb to get an intensely savoury crust so don’t worry too much.) Combine with a generous glug of oil and smear over the lamb. Put it in to roast for 35 minutes, after which add in a mug of boiling water. You’ll want to roast it for three hours now, turning and basting every hour with the juices from the tin. Add in more boiling water if towards the last hour it all evaporates. After three hours, remove from the oven and let it rest for ten minutes. Don’t throw away the juices, that’s going into the stew.

Speaking of…

For the stew, start by charring the peppers on an open flame (I just stick them directly on the hob. Remember to pierce the peppers with a knife so that they don’t explode.) It’ll take about ten minutes for each pepper; you want to aim for blistered skin which is blackened in patches and for the pepper to be softened. In the meantime, roughly chop the onion and crush the garlic and gently fry in oil along with the spices and plenty of seasoning. Chop up the peppers and add into the pan. Chop the aubergines into generous chunks (bearing in mind that they shrink when cooking) and add in. Fry for a further ten minutes until everything is fully acquainted and coated in the happy mix of oil and spices. Deglaze your pan with a glass of red wine and then add in the two tins of chopped tomatoes. Stir to combine and then add in sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Throw in your cinnamon stick and bay leaf and leave to simmer for an hour. After an hour, add in the drained tin of chickpeas and simmer for a further half an hour, by which point the chickpeas should be soft and the aubergine should have imparted a silkiness to the whole thing. Add tomato puree to thicken and sriarcha sauce for that garlicky-tomatoey-chilli thing that it uniquely has. Once the lamb is out of the oven, add in the juices from the roasting tin. Just before serving, mix in chopped mint. Serve with a wedge of lemon and couscous or pitta bread.


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Quinoa as mustard?

Okay. As a pun, I do realise that is stretching it but quinoa is remarkably difficult to make funny (despite the Waitrose, credit-card hippy affiliations of the would-be grain).

ANYWAY. Let’s move on from my terrible pun and onto my conversion to yet another relative of the beetroot family: quinoa. For a long time, I had joyfully steered away from anything containing quinoa. It always seemed too smug and wholesome, with its Mrs-Bucket-like moniker pretensions. Then I discovered the Leon superfood salad and it converted me. It was no longer the low-GI food beloved of LA starlets; San Francisco hipsters and Birkenstock-shod urban hippies. It was like a odd, wonky-looking version of couscous.

Look, I’m not going to pretend that it’s a game changer en seule. Like rice, pasta, couscous and lentils, it is but a blank canvas that you start out with. It needs the lavish attention of more boisterous playmates like roasted squash and aubergine; aromatic rose petal harissa; and creamy tahini shot through with a bolt of lemon juice.

I’m not even going to pretend that this is really anything that you need to be told how to make. This salad was begat purely out of hunger and my never-ending affair with any dish kissed with the merest whisper of middle-eastern cuisine. Make it with whatever is lurking, unloved and shy at the back of the vegetable drawer. Onions made sweet and smoky from being placed under the grill; a verdant selection of steamed seasonal greens such as asparagus and purple-sprouting broccoli; griddled ribbons of courgette; or crescents of roasted beets. Take your pick, I’m not prescriptive about it. Well, make the tahini dressing. That’s the only thing I’d urge.

Quinoa and roasted vegetable tahini salad

For those who are not blessed with a Waitrose, Whole Foods or middle-eastern shop nearby, quinoa, tahini and harissa may be a bit more challenging to come by. I have found harissa in large corner shops before, kept with the spices and tahini and quinoa tend to be carried by large supermarkets. And it’s not me being a glib Londoner but we do live in the age of the Internet now, Melbury and Appleton carry a good selection.

1 small squash

1 medium aubergine

60g quinoa

two handfuls of lamb’s lettuce

olive oil

harissa

tahini

chilli flakes

cumin seeds

lemon juice

salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6/200c. Peel, de-seed and dice the squash into generous, large chunks. Do the same with the aubergine. Remember that roasted vegetables shrink and you want a hefty, manly mouthful. No half measures here.

In a small bowl, mix together a generous teaspoon of harissa; a pinch of chilli flakes; a teaspoon of cumin seeds; two tablespoons of olive oil; and salt and pepper. Toss the squash and aubergine in this marinade and then roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the aubergine starts to caramelise slightly.

Meanwhile, put the kettle on and measure out your quinoa. Once the water has boiled, add it to the quinoa in a small pan and gently simmer for around 20 minutes until the water has evaporated.

While the quinoa and vegetables are cooking, whisk together two teaspoons of tahini with the juice of a lemon. Loosen the dressing to the consistency of natural yoghurt by adding in olive oil and season to taste.

Once everything is cooked, toss the quinoa in the roasting tray with the vegetables so that it soaks up the remainder of the harissa marinade. Pile atop the lamb’s lettuce and drizzle generously with the tahini dressing.

Variations
Baby spinach would be my choice for the green base for this salad but alas, all I had was lamb’s lettuce (please feel free to mock that sentence all you want). Chunks of salty feta or slices of grilled halloumi would not go remiss either.


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Crouching tofu, mincing pig

Chuc mung nam moi!*

I hope you all took the welcome opportunity to scoff some dim sum this weekend to celebrate the ushering in of the year of the rabbit:

(Yeah. Okay, I just wanted an excuse to post a picture of a ridiculous angora bunny. Look at it!! It’s like a enormous, rotund ball of candyfloss adorableness. I just want to squeeze one until it becomes a puff of smoke!)

ANYWAY.

Being the massive organised nerd that I am, I decided to combine the opportunity to make my first food resolution from February’s book (Jamie’s America) and to completely go overboard with a Lunar New Year feast.



(top to bottom: sesame and honey glazed ribs; gingered tofu and aubergine stir fry; sher ping pancakes)

For the uninitiated and intrigued, sher ping pancakes are essentially giganticised versions of Chinese fried dumplings that are commonly served as dim sum. Now, I love dim sum as much as the next greedy person (possibly more) but I do have a slight problem with them. They’re not for those who want a sated appetite and for a wanton glutton like me, that inevitably leads to bowling home to make Marmite toast as ballast before bedtime.

Sher ping pancakes present the perfect compromise – all that yummy dim sum goodness but in a format the size of your face. Additional bonus: this is one of those magical recipes which conjures the illusion of a masterchef when indeed, all you’ve done is knock up a simple dough and scrunched a few ingredients together to constitute your filling. You might be mildly dubious as I was (this broke gastro-territory for me – it didn’t involve tinned tomatoes or stock for one thing…) but give it a try and wonder at the alchemy of this recipe.

For a truly celebratory feast though, a stack of (admittedly impressive looking) pancakes wouldn’t be enough. On the similarly impressive-but-easy tip, came my sesame and honey glazed ribs and to temper the richness, a gingered tofu and aubergine stir-fry with steamed rice.

Sher ping pancakes

adapted from Jamie’s America by Jamie Oliver

Another thing I forgot to mention whilst I was extolling the virtues of this recipe – it’s wonderfully versatile. Not a fan of pig in your pancakes? Chopped raw prawn and chives would work just as beautifully. What about minced beef infused with dried chilli and sweetened with honey? Much as I’m not a fan of minced chicken, I imagine that this would be equally marvellous with the grated zest of a lemon and ginger. These pancakes press all the buttons that fast food has the monopoly on. Substantial parcels which are flavoursome and juicy within, hot and crisp without.

for the dough

450g white bread flour

225ml water

4 tablespoons sunflower oil

salt and pepper

for the filling

250g minced pork

thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated

two garlic cloves, minced or finely grated

three spring onions, finely chopped

quarter of a large leek, finely shredded (white and green)

packet of coriander, finely chopped (stalks and leaves)

salt and pepper

for the dipping sauce

soy sauce

rice vinegar or sushi vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar will suffice otherwise)

chilli sauce (srirarcha if you can get it, Tobasco otherwise)

juice of half a lime

To start with, prepare the dough for the pancakes by combining all the ingredients together in a large bowl and combining with a fork. Once the dough starts to come together, briefly knead it to fully combine and leave covered with a clean tea towel until needed.

Similarly, combine all the ingredients of the filling together in a large bowl using your hands to ensure that it is all evenly combined. The further you make this mixture in advance, the better this will taste as the ingredients will have had time to get to know one another and really mingle in together. An hour, if you are pressed for time (or just impatient for dinner) should do. Cover your mixture with clingfilm and refrigerate until needed.

Now for the assembling. Jamie recommends making the pancakes in advance and chilling prior to cooking. Having made the pancakes without chilling prior to cooking and with, I can safely reassure you that it makes no difference. In fact, I found it easier to make and cook the pancakes as I went along.

On a floured surface, roll your dough (which should have risen nicely) into a long sausage shape. Divide into eight pieces using a sharp knife. Form your dough into a palm-sized disc and place a heaped tablespoon of the filling into the middle. Wrap your pancake by pulling the sides in together so that they completely cover the filling and meet at the top of the parcel. Give it a twist to seal and then compress into a pancake by pressing down using your palm. You want to make the pancakes fairly flat, perhaps around 2cm in thickness so that they cook all the way through without the dough scorching.

To cook, heat a large non-stick frying pan and add a little oil (I found that cooking spray was perfect for this as you want to avoid greasiness and get these nice and dryly crisp). Place your pancake in the pan, cooking until golden brown on both sides. It should take approximately 4 minutes per side to cook your pancakes all the way through. Of course, if you’re not sure, take a hit for the team and crack one open to check. As it’s already open, you might as well test it out. Chef privileges and all.

Soy sauce on its own would make an excellent accompaniment to the pancakes but a dipping sauce infused with the garlicky heat and spice of srirarcha chilli sauce; the sweetness of sushi vinegar; and the bright zing of lime juice lift these pancakes into the sublime.

Sesame and honey glazed ribs

I appropriated this glaze from Nigella Lawson’s recipe for cocktail sausages – the combination of sesame oil, soy sauce and honey combines to make a stickily delectable glaze for sausages and ribs alike. It benefits from additions which you may add on a whim. The fiery intensity of a chopped bird’s-eye chilli or minced ginger would be welcome bedfellows. Substituting maple syrup for the honey would impart a subtle smokiness which would pair well with a big juicy banger (steady on…)

500g pork ribs

2 generous tablespoons of honey

2 tablespoons of sesame oil

6 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

sesame seeds (optional)

Combine your ingredients for the glaze and marinate the ribs for as long as possible. Again, an hour seemed to be sufficient but the more time you have, the better.

Preheat your oven to 200c and bring this down to 170c once you put the ribs into the oven. Roast for 35-40 minutes, until the marinade has coalesced into a bubbling treacly glaze. Scatter with sesame seeds and serve whilst hot.

Gingered tofu and aubergine stir fry

adapted from Ching-He Huang’s recipe for ginger sweet tofu

Tofu is one of those things that people feel very strongly about. The wobbly jelly texture and milky blandness of it are quite often the reason why it’s so maligned (apart from it’s credit-card hippy associations). Marinading the tofu before cooking helps to combat the blandness that it can suffer from. Be fearless with your seasoning and flavour choices, it will take to strong and robust flavours well.

1 pack of firm tofu, diced

1 medium aubergine, diced

thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated or minced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

1 bird’s-eye chilli, finely sliced

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

cooking spray (or vegetable oil)

Combine the grated ginger, soy sauce and sugar to create the marinade and combine with the cubed tofu and spring onions. Marinade for as long as possible (again, an hour seems to be the minimum to allow the flavours to mingle and deepen).

Once you’re ready to cook, heat a wok and spray with cooking spray. (Aubergines tend to greedily soak up oil, so I find that cooking spray yields enough grease to cook without weighing down the dish). Add in your cubed aubergine and fry until soft and golden (don’t worry if you get charred bits, they’ll be the best bits!) Add in your tofu and marinade, cooking through until everything is piping hot and the marinade has reduced slightly. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and lashings of good fortune for the new year.

*That’s “Happy new year” to those readers who aren’t fluent in Vietnamese. Or in using Google Translate.


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And I’m filo good…

Groan.

I know, terrible pun which doesn’t quite work as it doesn’t scan along with the song but I promise that this recipe is much better than my headline wit.

Swept along on the winds of last week’s Moroccan challenge, we remain within the same gastronomic climes with a Moroccan roasted vegetable filo pie.

This was a recipe which was borne out of necessity (i.e. hunger and greed). In my experience, most experimental meals borne out of convenience tend less towards happy accidents and more towards a mismatched confection of the dregs of the refrigerator. Whenever I read food writers who trill about successful food accidents, I can’t help but think with a degree of cynicism, “Well, who does have leftover wine/roast potatoes/pasta” lying around (none of these things exist in my universe).

Well, consider myself thoroughly corrected because just before Christmas, I was a girl with some leftover filo pastry. (I do believe I have never written a more middle-class sentence than that).

(Oh wait, I do believe I’m about to top it).

If you, like me, are part of a vegetable box scheme you will know the inevitable point at the end of the week when you end up with a glut of courgettes and carrots. (Because the butternut squash or aubergine, the starlet of the box, is always the first one to go…) This is a perfect solution to your dilemma and justifies the minor inconvenience of seeking out a packet of filo pastry.

Essentially, the filling of this pie consists of all the vegetables which are left lingering, sad and wilted, at the bottom of the vegetable drawer. You know the ones I mean. The floppy carrots which are only good for stock making; the courgettes which you fear have turned bitter; the wizened onion sprouting a Fu-Manchu style moustache. Prune and spruce the runts of your vegetable box as best you can and with the help of some olive oil, cumin seeds, chilli flakes and a hot oven, you are well on your way to a rich, smoky and tender filling fit for a pie. The silky heat of the filling provides a bold contrast to the crisp and buttery filo pastry, combine with a crisp salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil for maximum bliss.

 

Moroccan roasted vegetable filo pie

 

serves four greedy people

 

selection of vegetables for roasting (aubergine, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potato are all attractive suitors for this particular task)

large red onion

couple of cloves of garlic (still in skins)

two generous handfuls of lentils (green, red, puy – take your pick, I’m equal op as far as lentils are concerned. If you prefer your bulk to come from chickpeas then I would not be at all averse to this deviation…)

a tin of chopped tomatoes

cumin seeds

dried chilli flakes

bay leaf (optional)

five or six sheets of filo pastry

melted butter

 

Preheat your oven to 210c/gas mark 5.

Chop the vegetables and the red onion for roasting into large chunks (bearing in mind that roasted vegetables will shrink and dehydrate – the bigger you chop them, the more moist and tender they will stay). Throw these into a large baking tray with the unpeeled garlic cloves with a generous slug of olive oil and dress with the cumin, chilli, salt and pepper. (The garlic cloves will roast inside their own papery skins and become wonderfully sweet, perfect for adding depth to your tomato sauce later.) Roast for 35 minutes or until cooked and tender.

Once cooked, tip all the vegetables into a large saucepan (make sure to pop the garlic cloves out of their jackets first) and cover with the chopped tomatoes. Fill the empty tin up halfway with water and sloosh around to get the remains of the tomato juice and tip into the pan. Add a bay leaf (if you have it to hand) and two handfuls of lentils. The idea is to cook the lentils by allowing them to absorb the tomato juice – you want the resulting filling to consist of lentils and vegetables just bound by the tomato sauce, rather than a slick of tomato with roasted vegetables bobbing around in it. This will prevent the pastry from getting soggy as well.

Line a non-stick baking tray, tart tin or pie dish with the filo pastry, so that the bottom consists of overlapping layers of filo and with enough overhang to scrunch up on top of the pie.

Pour the vegetable and lentil filling into the filo-lined tin and artfully arrange the top in undulating waves of filo. Brush with melted butter and return to the oven. Bake until burnished and golden, eat whilst hot, salty and crisp.