Friday, May 30, 2008

Pork, aubergines and rice

I am pretty confident that no Chinese chef has ever cooked the ingredients for a stir-fry in the oven. But I do not like frying aubergines: cubed ones, in particular, are reluctant to soften, and tend to stick to even well-seasoned pans. Once I had tossed my aubergines in oil, seasoned them, and put them in the oven, I realised that I did not need another pan for my other ingredients (leftover belly pork, cubed; sliced spring onions; chopped garlic). After 25 minutes, I threw them into the roasting tin with the aubergines, stirred them about with a little more oil (groundnut), turned down the oven (from gas mark 6/200C) to gas mark 2/150C, and gave everything a further 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I cooked the rice (the link on the right takes you to various agonised posts on this subject), tipped it into the roasting tin, and mixed everything up with some soy sauce, nam pla, and rice vinegar. (There is a more detailed recipe, for another inauthentic pork stir fry, here.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Simple chicken again

My latest New Statesman column is about how I am not always principled enough to do the ethical, ecological thing; and about how I am not always sure what the ethical thing is. Someone who is sure, on the subject of Israeli potatoes, has made a comment here.

I bought a much better batch of Jerseys at the weekend. I did not use them, though, on a version of this recipe, which I made with a particularly flavoursome Label Anglais chicken. The French potatoes were ideal, retaining their shape and their waxy texture.

This is an example of a dish that might not pass the highest culinary examination, but that is nevertheless home cooking at its best. The potatoes, not having lost their surface starch through parboiling, have a slimy quality -- in this context, delicious. Also, they have soaked up the chicken juices, as well as oil, garlic (I put whole cloves in the chicken cavity), and lemon (squeezed over the bird, and then placed inside the cavity).

To summarise: rub chicken with olive oil, season, squirt with lemon juice, stuff cavity with lemon hulls and unpeeled garlic cloves, and roast at gas mark 6/200C for 30 minutes; turn down heat to gas mark 2/150C, and roast for a further 90 minutes. (My chicken was 2kg.) Scrape and slice potatoes, transfer to bowl of water. Drain, and tip into the roasting tin, around and under the chicken, when there are 45 minutes to go. At the end of the two hours cooking time, transfer chicken to a plate, and allow to rest. Turn up oven to full heat, and cook potatoes, turning them if necessary, until they are brown and have absorbed most of the liquid -- about 20 to 30 minutes. The chicken should still be pretty hot; if it is lukewarm, no matter.

This version has some variations on my earlier one, largely because of the different oven temperatures here and in France. Also, I did not bother trying to remove some of the potato starch with paper towels. Why had I been so fussy?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mackerel and potato salad

My first Jersey Royals (80p a pound) from the greengrocer were disappointing, perhaps compromised by the terrible weather in April. At Tesco this week, the Jerseys were £2.45 for a small bag; I bought organic new potatoes, of an unnamed variety and from Israel, instead. Some might say that buying Israeli potatoes from Tesco is unsound for three reasons (political, ecological, and societal); but I go only so far as an ethical shopper. Israeli farmers have a right to earn a living, I think.

I used them for a Delia Smith-style cheats' dinner: ready-prepared smoked mackerel fillets, flaked (I like their oiliness); half a bottle of artichoke hearts, drained; half a bottle of "Greek-style" black olives, stoned; one bottled pepper, sliced. Once the potatoes (about 10 of them, sliced) had cooled, I stirred everything together with two dstsps of mayonnaise -- which I had made. Plenty for two.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Falafels - der Haroutunian

I love falafels, but until last week I had not succeeded in making decent ones. There is a good deal of variation between recipes. One I have seen suggests concocting the mixture by grounding up raw chick peas. Several contain grated onions, which, in my experience, make the patties or balls too soft: they absorb a huge amount of oil. Other efforts have fallen to bits. Recipe writers disagree over whether the falafels should be bound by flour, or by breadcrumbs and egg.

At last, I have had success, thanks to the ever-excellent Grub Street's reissue of Vegetarian Dishes of the Middle East by the late Arto der Haroutunian. (The company's website was not working when I checked.) What follows is an adaptation of his recipe: I used the quantity of chick peas that came in a jar rather than the 450g in his version, and I upped the cumin content. If you have a tin (standard drained weight: 225g) or two tins, you can adjust the quantities accordingly.

400g cooked chick peas
Salt, to taste (bottled or tinned chick peas may already be salty)
1/2tsp black pepper
1/2tsp turmeric
1tsp cumin, toasted over a gentle heat in a dry saucepan and ground
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
1tbsp tahini or olive oil
50g white breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
Sunflower oil, for deep frying

Whizz the chick peas in a food processor. Scrape the sides of the jug, and keep whizzing until you have a paste, which does not have to be completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in all the other ingredients except the flour and sunflower oil. You want a thick, sticky mass. If it won't cohere, add a little water.

Heat the oil -- you may need about a litre -- in a saucepan over a medium flame.

Form the chick pea mixture into balls or patties of whatever size you like. I went for eight patties. Roll them in flour.

Test the oil by dropping in a little piece of bread. If it sizzles, add the falafels -- I cooked them four at a time. You want them to take about five minutes to brown (so that they cook through), so adjust the flame accordingly. When they are ready, lift them from the oil with a slotted spoon on to paper towels. Then put them on to a plate in a very low oven while you cook the next batch.

We ate them with Greek yoghurt. Mine had minced garlic and chillis (fresh) stirred in.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aubergine, courgette and bean gratin

I made a version of this gratin the other night, but as a one-pot meal, including courgettes and dried beans as well.

Instead of cooking the courgettes (I had three small ones) separately, I thought: why not simply tip them into the tomato sauce and let them simmer for a few minutes? Then I could add the beans (I used alubia beans, from a jar), warm them too, and pour the whole mixture into a gratin dish. At the moment when I was adding the sliced courgettes, I saw the potential problem: vegetables do not soften in an acid environment. (Do not ever try to cook potatoes in tomato sauce -- unless they are cooked already, in which case they should retain their shape.) But I got away with it. The courgettes were slightly crunchy, but not unpleasantly so.

I topped this mixture of tomato sauce, courgettes and beans with slices of aubergine, and poured my sauce on top of that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tardy Jersey Royals

My latest New Statesman column is about Jersey Royals -- which I have not tasted yet this year. My greengrocer says that they are still too expensive. The crop is down, as the Jersey Royal Company told me; I should guess that the supermarkets have taken a large share of it.

So we had some new potatoes from France: not bad, but definitely second best. I was not as clear as I might have been in the column when I wrote that I did not like to assemble the potatoes with lots of other ingredients; what I meant to say was that I did not like preparing them with ingredients that masked their flavour. Yesterday, we had a big mixed salad: potatoes; roast belly pork; roasted peppers; rocket; a few tomatoes. I made a vinaigrette with 1tbsp of vinegar, half a tsp of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 2tbsp of olive oil, 1tbsp of sesame oil, and 1dstsp of soy sauce.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Rocket and cheese salad

Greens are appearing in the vegetable box again. At last, I am doing something about the realisation that green salads are tedious, no matter how varied the leaves. They are fine with another, assertive ingredient -- particularly cheese, I think.

Yesterday, for lunch (for 2), I toasted 2tbsp of pine nuts in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. I cubed 100g of Gruyere. I made
a sauce with 1dstsp of white wine vinegar, 3dstsp of olive oil, a little salt, and a lot of pepper. I tossed the nuts and cheese in the sauce with washed rocket from a bag. A dull and chewy leaf tasting only of pepper, rocket complements the other ingredients here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A different kind of tortilla

I large potato
5 eggs
80g grated cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar

Peel the potato, cut it into equal-sized pieces, put them into cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook until soft. Drain. Then -- this is the different bit -- mash them.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly. Mix them with the cheese and potato, and a little salt if you like.

Melt a large knob of butter in a heavy, 28cm frying pan over the lowest possible heat. Pour in the egg mixture. Cook until there is a decent amount of set egg on the bottom -- about 10 minutes. Put the pan under a low grill for a minute or so, to set the top.

I got this idea from Allegra McEvedy's column in the Guardian. I am sure that her spicy version would be delicious. I am less sure about baking it -- the egg would be more likely to toughen, I think. I certainly would not entrust the mixture to my Pyrex dish: it would stick. However, one of the effects of the mash seems to be to give a more tender result.

My tortilla would have benefited from a couple of sliced Spanish onions, fried very gently and tipped into the egg mixture before being returned to the pan.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Red pepper hummus

This is the hummus I made with my tahini. It was lighter, less pasty, than versions I have made with tahini from a jar. The pepper helped to loosen the texture too.

1 tin chickpeas, rinsed in a sieve
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp tahini
1 red pepper (from a Cypressa jar -- or fresh and roasted)
A little salt (the chickpeas have been sitting in brine)
Pinch cayenne
1dstsp olive oil

Put all the ingredients, expect the oil, in a food processor, and whizz. You may need to interrupt the whizzing to scrape the mixture from the sides of the bowl. Pour a little water through the spout if the hummus seems too thick.

You do not need to add a lot more oil to a mixture that already contains the oily tahini. In my experience, olive oil whizzed in a processor loses its fruitiness; I prefer to stir it in at the end.