Monday, December 21, 2009

Sweet potato, carrot and chick pea curry

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Sunflower oil, for frying
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
6 black peppercorns
8 cardamom pods
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into fork-size pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into fork-size pieces
1 tin chick peas
Chicken stock
1tsp turmeric
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Sachet of creamed coconut
Chillis, chopped

Serves 2

Fry the onions and garlic, salted, in the sunflower oil (enough to prevent their catching) over a low heat, stirring, until golden.

Meanwhile, in a dry saucepan and over a gentle heat, cook the cumin, coriander, and peppercorns until they give off a toasted aroma. Grind, with the cardamom (to release the seeds), with a pestle and mortar. Fry these spices with the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes.

Tip in the sweet potato, carrots and chick peas. Pour in a couple of ladlefuls of stock (eccentrically, I used the bacon stock that also went into my potato and cabbage soup), with the turmeric, cayenne, salt if you need it, and coconut cream. Simmer, covered, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables are soft. You'll find that they absorb and thicken the stock - I needed to add another ladleful.

As you may be able to see above, I eat mine with a generous garnish of chillis.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Potato and cabbage soup

Bacon stock
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
Quarter of Savoy cabbage, finely shredded, chopped, and washed

At the weekend, I boiled a knuckle of bacon. I covered it in water, brought it to a simmer, and skimmed the froth. I threw in 2 onions, 10 peppercorns, and 10 juniper berries, covered the pot, put it on a heat disperser, and simmered for two hours. The beautifully tender bacon, costing £1.50, served three. The strained liquid, chilled, became a jellied stock.

To make the soup (for 2): cover the potatoes with stock, peppered if you like, and simmer until the potatoes are very soft. Mash with a potato masher. Do not boil the soup again: it will turn starchy. Tip in the cabbage, stir in, cover, and leave for three minutes. Serve.

Monday, December 07, 2009


The breast meat of chicken cooks much more rapidly than does the leg meat. When overcooked, it - like any foodstuff consisting of protein - dries and toughens. Keeping it tender presents a bigger challenge when you cook it in liquid than when you roast it, because the liquid is a more efficient cooking medium than oven heat.

This is the first flaw, it seems to me, of poule-au-pot recipes, which instruct you to boil the bird whole. The second is that they also tell you to cook your vegetables to the pot, adding them at intervals, according to how long you think they need. The chances are that some will emerge overcooked.

1 chicken, or hen (poule)
1/2 chicken stock cube
2 onions
2 bay leaves
12 peppercorns


Joint the chicken, or get the butcher to do it for you. I cut mine into eight pieces: I separated the thighs and the drumsticks, and cut the breasts in half.

Put the thighs, drumsticks, backbone and giblets (if you have them - but minus the liver) into the bottom of a stockpot or deep casserole. Pour in water just to cover, and bring to a simmer. Skim the froth (though it is harmless - chefs get rid of it in order to avoid producing murky stock). Throw in the half stock cube, onions, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Cover (for thoughts on covering stock, see here), and simmer for 60 minutes. (I, liking very tender leg meat, allowed 90 minutes.) Add the breast portions. There is no need to turn up the heat to bring the liquid back to a simmer - it is hot enough. Cover, and allow another 30 minutes.

Chop off the tough leaves of the leeks, cut them down the middle, and slice. Soak them in water, to get rid of the grit. Transfer them (without their soaking water) to a saucepan, pour over a serving spoonful of stock from the chicken pot, add a knob of butter and some salt, cover and cook on a low to medium heat for five minutes. Uncover the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated.

Peel the carrots and cut them into thick batons. Cook them in the same way as the leeks, but allowing them 10 to 12 minutes in the covered pan before removing the lid and evaporating the liquid.

We had our chicken with rice as well. Plain, boiled potatoes (new or maincrop) would also have been fine.

Serve the chicken with a spoonful or two of its stock. Keep the rest of the stock to use in other recipes. A salsa verde, or a garlic mayonnaise, would be a good accompaniment.