Monday, September 29, 2008

Beef bindaloo

My latest New Statesman column is my last for the magazine. It contains, unusually, quite a detailed recipe, though a simple one, for beef "bindaloo".

The only mistake you can make is not to cook the curry powder with the fried onions for a good 10 minutes. It will be powdery otherwise -- "snuffy" was the term that a Victorian writer used.

This quantity of powder may not be appropriate for all commercially available brands. I might have used less of the one I had bought -- White Pearl, the pungent odour of which lingered in the house for a while.

I have not yet had a chance to read my copy of The Road to Vindaloo, which has just arrived. All I can say is that if I picked up this attractive history of Anglo-Indian cookery in a bookshop, I would instantly decide that it was an ideal present for any curry enthusiast.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I fancied grating my cucumber, rather than chopping it, for my cucumber and yoghurt salad yesterday. The cucumber would be a refreshing component of the texture of the dish, rather than a distinct, crunchy contrast to the yoghurt.

The problem is that grating releases a good deal of water -- and water is a huge percentage of what a cucumber is. Salting will encourage it to disgorge more water; but then how do you get it dry? Squeezing it in a clean dishcloth or in paper towels will leave bits of it stuck all over the place. Wringing it in your hands is messy too.

I tried the manual method. But the cucumber still diluted my yoghurt to an unsatisfactory extent.

I realise now that I should have scooped out the seeds first.

When chopping the cucumber, I usually salt the pieces, which are easier to dry. In Keep It Simple (now out of print), Alastair Little and Richard Whittington recommend another method: you immerse the chopped pieces for a few seconds in boiling, salted water.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lamb, bean and leek stew

A variation on this stew. It is quite rich: you do not need as much meat (for 4) as I recommended in the earlier version.

650g lamb neck fillet, cut into medallions
2 onions, chopped
I large leek, sliced and soaked (to wash away the grit)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 ladleful stock (I used chicken)
2 tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3tbsp double cream
Sunflower oil
Olive oil

In a heavy casserole, warm a couple of tbsps of olive oil over a gentle heat, and sweat the onions and garlic in it, adding more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch. When they are softened, throw in the (drained) leeks, and stir to coat them in oil. (Soup and stew recipes always tell you to do that: whether the coating in fat makes any difference to the ultimate flavour must be open to question.)

I have written before that I like to brown meat on a ridged grill pan. I now coat it first with a little oil, which I think promotes browning. Toss the medallions of lamb with just a tsp or two of sunflower or groundnut oil (which have higher smoking points than olive oil). Place the pan on a medium to high heat, give it a couple of minutes to get hot, and brown the meat in batches; the process should take no more than a minute on each side. (If it takes longer, the lamb may dry out. Transfer the lamb as it browns to a plate.)

Tip the lamb into the casserole with the vegetables, and add the whole garlic, rosemary, bay, stock, and salt to taste. Transfer to an oven at gas mark 2/150C.

Check every so often to see that the stew is gently simmering; adjust the temperature accordingly. Because not much was happening to my stew after 30 minutes or so, I raised the dial to gas mark 4/180C for 20 minutes, before turning it back down to 1/140C. That low temperature was quite sufficient to maintain a simmer.

After 90 minutes, tip in the cannellini beans. Return the casserole to the oven for a further 30 minutes, before transferring it to a low light on the hob. You can squeeze the whole garlic cloves from their husks into the sauce if you like. Stir in the cream, warm through for a minute, and serve.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Welsh rarebit

The problem with Welsh rarebit recipes is that the mixture, containing beer, is quite liquid. You spread it on the toast, only to find that it oozes like lava over the sides once under the grill.

Anne O'Connell's Early Vegetarian Recipes, just out from Prospect Books, may have the answer. You warm your cheese mixture in a pan, and simply pour it over the toast. The recipe, from Mrs C S Peel's Dishes Made without Meat (Constable, 1907), states: "Slice down some good, rich cheese rather thinly, into a delicately clean stewpan, with some morsels of butter, and 2 or 3 spoonfuls of porter, good ale, or new milk as you please, according to the quantity of the cheese [early recipe books tended to assume that their readers could judge quantities]; flavour to taste with freshly ground black pepper and English mustard. Stir it all till thoroughly melted, (and) pour it over hot buttered toast."

But how do you get a browned topping? "With a hot shovel," is Mrs Peel's recommendation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Plum crumble

Yesterday, I made a crumble with buckwheat flour. I wouldn't recommend it. The crumble was perfectly pleasant, but somewhat powdery -- which is not the quality you want. But the plums -- a blue-black variety called Swenson's -- were good. I cut them in half, stoned them, and placed them in my oven dish, before sprinkling them with a dstsp of caster sugar and vanilla essence. (Vanilla essence is not an easy substance to sprinkle; but I did my best.)

There were only two of us. I used in all 12 plums, 70g of flour, 30g of butter, 2dstsps of sugar, 2tsps of vanilla essence, and more butter for the top of the crumble. I cut the butter into small pieces, and put it back into the fridge for 30 minutes before whizzing it in the food processor just until it and the flour had combined. I stirred in my second dstsp of caster sugar, scattered the crumble mixture on top of the plums, and distributed slivers of butter on top. I baked the crumble for 35 minutes at gas mark 5/190C.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sun-dried tomato paste

The vogue for sun-dried tomatoes has long passed its peak, as we realised that most of them were tough, and that many were flavourless. But the best brands, used with other ingredients, still have a place.

One nice way of using them, if you have a small electric whizzer, is as a paste. Put them in the whizzer with a little of their oil, some seasoning (be careful with the salt), and some chopped garlic. Last night I baked slices of aubergine until tender, spread my sun-dried tomato paste on top, placed slices of Gruyere on top of that, and put these assemblies back into the oven for a further five minutes. The paste also makes a decent alternative to tinned tomato puree.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Courgettes with egg and cheese

The late Arto der Haroutunian, whose Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East is another winning reissue from Grub Street, describes this dish as an omelette. One might also call it a kind of souffle.

These quantities are slightly different from Haroutunian's. I should also have adapted his instructions for the courgettes, which dilute the consistency. Though not a fan of pre-salting when it comes to aubergines, I recommend it here.

Serves 2 to 3 as a main course, with rice.

2 courgettes, grated on a course mesh
50g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
110g mushrooms, sliced
1tbsp plain flour
250ml milk
3tbsp Cheddar, grated
2tbsp chopped parsley (which I did not have)
3 eggs, separated (the recipe states 4 -- that seemed a bit much for two of us)
Salt and pepper

Put the grated courgettes in a colander, sprinkling over salt as you go. After 30 minutes, squeeze out the water.

Sweat the onion in the butter until softened. Tip in the mushrooms, and cook until the liquid they have thrown off has evaporated (you do not want it diluting the sauce later). Stir in the flour, and cook for a minute or two (you have to be careful that it does not catch, because the vegetables will have taken up some of the butter with which it should merge), before adding the milk, portion by portion, as you would when making a bechamel. Stop when you have a bubbling, thick sauce. Take it off the heat. Stir in the cheese, the parsley (if you have it), the egg yolks, and the courgettes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk the egg whites until standing in peaks, then fold them into the courgette mixture (using a turning, rather than beating, motion).

Lightly butter a gratin dish, and pour in the mixture, covering it with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan if you like. Bake at gas mark 4/180C until risen and bubbling. It takes about 35 to 45 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Roast new potatoes

When you roast maincrop potatoes, it is worth parboiling them until the surfaces are soft and can be roughed up, and placing them in hot fat to ensure crispiness. (There are further thoughts about roast potatoes in various postings, including this one.) Waxy varieties do not require this treatment.

I still like to parboil them, but only briefly, to remove some of the surface starch and to stop them sticking to the roasting tin. (Non-parboiled roast potatoes tend to have tough coatings.) I slice them, crosswise or lengthways, into pieces about the thickness of two £1 coins. I put them in cold water, bring them to the boil, and allow them to simmer for just a minute or so. I drain them and let them steam, before tossing them in olive oil (straight from the bottle) and roasting them. Usually, gas mark 6/200C for one hour, with a turn of the potatoes half way through, works fine; but it is always worth checking to see whether they are browning too quickly.

The Charlotte potatoes I buy in France respond particularly well to this treatment. The more thinly sliced ones emerge from the oven with the texture and flavour of high-class crisps.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Stuffed aubergines

I got the idea to stuff some aubergines from looking through one of my favourite cookbooks, Ghillie Basan's Classic Turkish Cookery. But what I cooked bore little relationship to her recipe.

First, Basan tells you to use torpedo-shaped aubergines, which of course I had little chance of buying. Next, she recommends deep frying them in sunflower oil before stuffing them. That no doubt produces a delicious result, but quite an oily one. Instead, I baked my aubergines, for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, having first pricked them with the tip of a knife to stop them exploding.

Basan's stuffing is raw lamb mince, mixed with tomatoes, garlic, onion and spices, and manipulated by hand until it is pasty. This mixture would be ideal as a stuffing, because easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I cooked the simple stew from this moussaka recipe -- but without the onion and with the addition of a couple of tbsps of pine nuts that I had toasted in a dry pan over a gentle heat.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the aubergines were softened enough, but not tender. I slit them from the stem ends to the bases, cutting through most of the way. I grated over a little salt, and drizzled about a tsp of olive oil into each. Then I put them into a roasting tin and shoved the stew into the cavities, packing it in as snugly as I could.

I had four aubergines, and soon realised that my stew (consisting of 400g of mince) would overflow. So I cut a red pepper in half, deseeded it, and stuffed that too.

I wanted the stuffed vegetables to steam. I poured a layer of boiling water round them, covered the tin with foil, and put it into the oven at gas mark 4/180C for an hour.

We ate the stuffed vegetables at room temperature. The only flaw was that the aubergines were a little watery. I cannot see an easy way to solve that problem: one could cut them in half and salt them for the initial baking, but then one would not be able to reassemble them as a package for the stuffing. Still, this was a great dish for a warm, late summer evening.