Fresh Seafood with Pasta and Green Harissa

fresh seafood with pasta and green harissa
Summertime and the living is easy…and you definitely don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. This imperessive Ottolenghi seafood dish is really effortless yet tastes just as good as it looks – maybe even better!  I think it is the perfect summer meal. Close your eyes, breathe it in, and let yourself be transported to the shores of a sun drenched beach. All the flavours of the sea are there.

 

mussels  

The final cooking stage and assembling of this dish takes less than 10 mins – 6 for the pasta and 3 or 4 for the seafood. If you clean your seafood, prepare the green harissa, and broil the peppers in advance, the rest is a breeze. A sea breeze!

 

fresh seafood

The green harissa is something I have blogged about before – though maybe under a different name with slightly different proportions – *chermoula or schug. Any of these versions will work. I try to have little pots of things like this in my fridge all the time because they add so much to so many different meals and yet take no time at all to make. 

Fresh seafood with pasta and green harissa

Ingredients

serves 4-6

6  pointy peppers, or 2 normal green peppers 
500g dry fettuccine or tagliatelle  
About 3 tbsp olive oil
25g  butter
1 red chilli, finely diced
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 squid tubes, cut into 1/2cm rings (300g net)
500g mussels, beards removed (Discard any that are open and don’t want to close_
360g large prawns, peeled, de-veined but with the head and tail left on
4 tomatoes, quartered, seeds discarded and diced into 1cm pieces 
Parsley, roughly chopped
4 to 6 lemon wedges
Salt and black pepper

Green Harissa*  (see above)green harissa

2 green chilies, roughly chopped

Handful of cilantro (coriander leaves)

Half handful of flat leaf parsley

1 tsp ground coriander

I tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp  crushed cardamom seeds

zest of lemon 

1/4 tsp caster sugar

olive oil

salt

 

Method

  • Charbroil the green peppers. You can do this in a hot frying pan with olive oil, or under the grill. When the skins char, leave them to cool then peel.
  • Make the green harissa. Simply whizz up the ingredients with a handheld blender till it looks like pesto. 
  • Once you are ready to cook, boil a pan of salted water, add the pasta and cook for the required time till al dente- probably 6-7 minutes. If it’s ready before the seafood, rinse, add a little olive oil and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, take a large heavy bottomed skillet which has a lid and heat the olive oil and butter. Add the crushed garlic and red chilli. Cook for a few minutes but don’t let it burn. Once it starts changing colour add a few tablespoons of water to cut the heat then throw in the seafood, lower the heat and cover. The seafood itself, especially the mussels, will release a lot of liquid  – and flavour – for it all to cook in. After about 3 minutes, the mussels will open, the prawns will be pink and be firm to the touch and the squid will be cooked.  
  • Turn off the heat. Stir in the chopped peppers, parsley, and tomato. Add another few drizzles of olive oil, salt and pepper and mix. 

fresh seafood with tagliatelle

 

Put the pasta onto a serving dish, pour the seafood and sauce on top and mix.  Drizzle the green harrisa over all and add lemon wedges

Serve immediately – unless of course you can’t resist the temptation to take some photos first! 

fresh seafood and pasta

 

 

Posted in Fish and seafood

Persian chicken with yoghurt and saffron

saffron and turmericSince the saffron adventure I’ve been on the hunt for great saffron recipes and was very excited to discover this lovely chicken dish from the book “Persiana”  by Sabrina Ghayour.  Her recipe is an adaptation of a well know Iranian kebab recipe, Joojeh Kabob. This version is for the kitchen as opposed to the barbeque. The one change I’ve made is to use chicken thighs and not breast as she suggests. I find chicken breast dry and boring, not to mention expensive. I don’t use it at all anymore. The good news about this recipe is that there is nothing too obscure in terms of ingredients – lemon, yoghurt, turmeric and saffron  – yet the resulting flavour is subtly exotic. 

Plan a bit ahead of time and let the chicken really marinate to soak up all those flavours then while the chicken is under the grill, fry up the onions from the marinade. A great dish  which I’m sure you will love.

Ingredients

Serves 4

4 onions thinly sliced

Juice of 4-5 lemons (depending on size)

4 tbs olive oil

1 tsp ground turmeric

400 gr Greek yoghurt

2 tbs crushed sea salt flakes

Big pinch of saffron threads

3 tbs boiling water

6 large boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 2 inch chunks

 

Method

  • Make the marinade by mixing the onions, yoghurt, lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric and salt. Break up the saffron strands, place in a small bowl and pour over boiling water. Allow to infuse (10 minutes)
  • Add the chicken pieces to the marinade and mix all together then pour in the saffron. Cover and leave to marinate for minimum 1 hour but preferably  overnight.
  • When ready to cook, heat the oven or grill (I prefer the grill for this) to maximum temperature. Take a baking tray and line it with parchment paper. Then, using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the marinade and lay the pieces out. Bake /grill for around 20 mins, until the edges slightly char but the chicken stays moist inside.  Be careful not to overcook. 
  • While that’s cooking, heat some olive oil in a frying pan, remove the onion from the marinade and fry it.  Keep stirring and let it become thick and sticky. It will be a beautiful yellow colour and taste amazing.
  • Spread the onions on a platter. Place the chicken on top and serve with either pita, rice or tortilla wraps, and some fresh crunchy salad. Delicious! You will love it. 

chicken with saffron and yoghurtP.S Barbecue season is just around the corner and I’m planning to try this on a charcoal grill. Will let you know…

Posted in Chicken

Labneh


Yoghurt plays a huge role in my diet. I can eat it breakfast, lunch and supper. I have it with homemade granola in the morning and then alongside savoury dishes later in the day. It’s one thing I always have in the fridge.

Chatting with friend and fellow yogurt addict Tacchi a few weeks ago,  I was reminded about labneh, a kind of fresh cream cheese made from strained yoghurt. This is something frequently served as part of a mezze in the Middle East – a spread of small plates of salads and dips and pickles.  It is the simplest thing in the world to make . You simply put yoghurt into a cheesecloth and strain it. It takes about 24 hours during which time the whey drips out, leaving you with a soft cream cheese. 

You get a more interesting flavour if you mix varieties of yoghurt. I mix goats or sheep  yoghurt – or both- with my regular Greek yoghurt. I vary the proportions  according to what I have – sometimes half and half and other time 1:3. I don’t think it matters. 

How do you eat it? The traditional way is to spread some on to a small plate, drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle some za’atar and a little salt. Then you mop it up with pita –  like eating hummus. But you can play with it in so many ways: instead of za’atar, try finely chopped fresh herbs and pine nuts. Or, incorporate it into a dip or paté, serve it with oven roasted vegetables, dollop some into soup, spread it inside a wrap….  You can even eat it with toast and jam! 


Making Labneh

Method

You will need a piece of cheese cloth or muslin. Place a colander over a bowl, line it with the cheesecloth and mix the yoghurt into it directly. Add a pinch or two of salt then tie up the cloth. Take away the colander and hang the cheesecloth with the yogurt over the bowl. Liquid starts coming out immediately and drips steadily for at least 24 hrs . Once the dripping stops it is ready.  

Labneh keeps well in the fridge – about a week if it lasts that long. It’s such an easy effortless thing to make that it seems silly not to and you will be surprised at how many ways you can eat it.  Let me know what you come up with! 

Posted in Starters and tapas

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon

Moroccan chicken tagine with lemons and olives

Apologies for my long absence. I had a few weeks of hardly being able to drag myself away from the news. Posting about food seemed so pointless in the light of what was going on in the world. However, time gets you used to anything it seems and I’m trying reconnect with the more pleasant side of life. 

Quite a few of you will recognise this recipe. I’ve made it so many times for so many people that I have to remind myself it’s not mine.  Moroccan chicken tagine made with olives and preserved lemon is a very traditional dish and if you have been to Morocco then you have probably tried it. Having said that, I think this recipe, from Simply Recipes, is better than any I’ve had – even in Morocco. It’s very straightforward and it just works! 

Moroccan tagines

Just to be clear, a tagine is really the name of the dish itself – a flat round clay base with a pointed lid – but the kind of sauce based stews that are cooked in them are liberally refereed to as tagines. 

freshly picked lemons

The one thing you are going to need is the preserved lemon which you can buy, or make. Click here to see how to make them or watch this  video of me making them (!)  courtesy of my friend Annette. As you will see they take a few weeks so if you are anxious to get going on this recipe then you could just use thin slices of lemon rind and add more salt, or freeze some lemon slices, then sprinkle them with salt.  The water will come out of them and they will soften in an hour or two. 

I do in fact have a tagine but I must confess that I don’t cook this in it. I find it works so well in my big heavy frying pan I just use the tagine for serving. 

Moroccan Tagine with lemon and olives

Serves 4-6. Prep time 1.15 mins  Cooking time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • I teaspoon ground cumin
  • I teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1.5 – 2 kg chicken. I use thighs because I find them the tastiest. 
  • salt
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • I large onion chopped
  • rind of one preserved lemon cut into strips
  • 1 cup pitted green olives
  • ‘1/2 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
  • Fresh cilantro and parsley

Method

  1. Pat dry the chicken pieces and roll each piece in the spices. Allow to marinate for at least an hour – longer if you can.
  2. Heat some olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and brown each piece of chicken for a few minutes on each side. Sprinkle lightly with salt – but don’t overdo it because the olives and lemons are salty. Add any remaining spice mix to the pan. browning the chicken
  3. Add the chopped onion and garlic to the pan and cover. Allow to cook medium low for about 15 mins. The onions will sweat and provide some liquid.chicken tagine
  4. Add the olives, preserved lemon, raisins and water/stock. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 30 mins
  5. Take the lid off and cook for another 5 mins. The sauce should be quite thick and full of flavour by now. 
  6. Garnish with finely chopped coriander and parsley leaves directly before serving.

You can serve this with rice, couscous or bread. I personally like bread because I like to mop up the fantastic sauce. I often serve it with a grated carrot salad, chopped tomato salad and a small bowl of Greek yoghurt. This one is a keeper I can promise you!

 

Moroccan chicken tagine with preservedlemon and

Posted in Chicken, Main Dishes Tagged , , , |

Mushroom and Mozzarella Bourekas


I think it’s about time for a quick and easy recipe – one with no obscure ingredients, that you can make tonight. This is one of my standbys – a light flaky savoury pastry with mushrooms and melted mozzarella . It’s simple but it’s tasty and satisfying. 

 

Bourekas,  a very popular snack in the middle east, are officially made with phyllo pastry but this is the easy version. You can make your own pastry if you want but I buy it ready-made from the supermarket and have it on hand when I need it. You can use fresh or frozen mushrooms or a mixture of both. And you can make it in any shape you want – an oblong, square or individual triangles. Up to you. 

Ingredients

Serves 2-3 as a main meal

  • 250 grams ready made puff pastry
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • Mushrooms – mixed fresh/frozen about 500 grams
  • Pinch of dill (optional)
  • 125 grams fresh mozzarella (one ball). Ricotta would also work well. 
  • Salt, black pepper

Method

  • Heat the oven to 200 C /400F, OR according the recommended cooking temperature of your pastry
  • If using frozen pastry make sure it is completely defrosted and at room temperature. Roll it out as desired and place in a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  
  • Sauté the mushrooms and chopped onion. If you are using frozen mushrooms, cook them well first so you get all the water out of them. Only add the onion once the mushrooms are frying as opposed to simmering. If using fresh, cook as normal Season with salt and black pepper.
  • Place the mushroom onion mixture on to the rolled out dough.
  • Tear the mozzarella into pieces and spread over the mushrooms. 
  • Fold over the dough. Press the edges to close and bake till puffy and golden. Serve immediately.

bourekas

Posted in Vegetarian

Saffron – the most expensive spice in the world

img_5527A little while ago, a friend returning from Morocco presented me with a big bag of saffron. Or at least he thought he did. What he really gave gave me was a big bag of ground turmeric, a different product altogether. Turmeric is a rhizome (root) while saffron is the vermilion stigmas of the crocus sativus flower, sold in tiny containers like gold dust.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Expensive, exotic, exquisite. For me, just the name conjures up images of sumptuous feasts in Persia and India, platters of fragrant yellow rice and roasted meats, and men in turbans and flowing robes.

Iran is by far the biggest producer of saffron in the world (90%) but Spanish saffron comes a very close second when it comes to quality and it is mainly produced in a string of small towns in La Mancha, beneath the windmills of Don Quijote.

Intrigued by this elusive, exclusive spice I made my way to the centre of the country, to town  of Villafranca de los Caballeros where I was welcomed by Isidra and her sister Ana, to discover the secrets of saffron. It didn’t take me long to realise why this spice is so  expensive. Every stage of the year long production is done by hand and it takes over 4000 flowers to produce just an ounce (28 grams) of dried threads. 

Saffron producers like Isidra’s  family work the ground throughout the year in order to harvest in the autumn. and a dry spring can all but cripple the crop. From mid October, the flowers appear. They open overnight and have to be picked the next morning. If left in the ground they will be wasted. The harvests lasts for 3-4 weeks. 

img_5331

This year hasn’t been a good year. Spring rains were late and the fields of crocuses are patchy, some days with nothing. Still, the day I was there, there were enough flowers for me to see this final stage of production.

Picking is a family affair and everyone pitches in. Bent over double, they work their way carefully down the rows gathering the delicate flowers into their wicker baskets.

img_5365
saffron harvest

Back home, baskets full, everyone gathers around a big table piled with flowers and the work to take out the highly prized stigma begins. After the backbreaking picking, this seemed to me like quite a relaxing job. Neighbours, whose families no longer grow saffron, came and went, helping to reduce the pile, and after a few hours the stigma were ready for toasting.  This was done simply by drying out the threads over a gas heater and took no more than about half an hour. 

img_5498

saffron harvesting

 img_5471

 

 

Isidra and her family are certified authentic saffron producers and their product carries the very important “Dominacion de Origin”  but when we asked if they could live off producing saffron alone they just laughed. “Last year was a good year”, they told us, “and we barely covered our costs.” How could this be possible? The most expensive spice in the world and they make no money? Bit by bit the story came out and we understood that, as so often happens, the real money is made by the middlemen not by the producers. Isidra sells to people she knows at 3 euros a gram. The same product sells in the local cooperative at 6 euros a gram and in shops up to 12 euros a gram. 

img_5563

Isidra and Ana  are only too aware how unattractive it is to their children to continue this tradition. With such a small profit it’s hard to convince them it is worth it. They are also aware of how easily this production could be exploited by companies bringing in outside workers.  So the conversation turned to how the sisters could take control and market their saffron themselves.  

img_5603

We left at the end of the day with hugs and kisses, our little packages of beautiful red saffron, and lots of ideas of how this family could hold on to their tradition. 

In the meantime, if you would like to buy some just send an email to Isidra at isi-toribio@hotmail.com,  or contact me.  I will be making an order in the very near future and can distribute around Andalucia and in UK. I can assure you, it’s not turmeric, it’s not sawdust. This is the real thing and I might have even picked it!

img_5598

Just one last word. If you find these posts interesting, please share with your friends. You can copy the URL or use the share button. Thanks!

Coming soon: Cooking with Saffron!
Posted in Food Stories, Spices and sauces Tagged , , , , |

The truth about…Olive Oil

img_4860
Most people move to Spain for the sun and the wine, but me, I’m here for the olive oil.

I  know olive oil comes up in just about all my posts but that’s because it’s just such great stuff. Everything I hear or read about it confirms that. It is liquid gold, pure health. Olive oil rules.

My passion is clearly shared by olive oil producers Alvaro and Angels who are living the dream with their new baby in the rolling hills of Andalusia, where they produce a very limited edition organic olive oil on their farm of El Herrerillo. When I visited, the first rains had just fallen and it was harvest time, and despite being extremely busy, they took the time to show us around and sit and sample a variety of amazing oils. Yes, we were drinking olive oil!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alvaro is a mine of information about all things oleic and I had a few surprises. The first was that colour is no indication of quality. I’ve always assumed the greener the better but apparently not. So much so, olive oil sampling glasses are cobalt blue which makes it impossible to see the colour.

Perhaps more importantly I learnt that there are only two forms of olive oil: Virgin and Extra Virgin. Everything else on the shelves is totally refined through an industrial process that is quite shocking – well, shocking in that it’s being sold as olive oil. This refined oil accounts for around 70% of what is sold around the world. Bad quality oxidized olive oil is mixed with other oils and then put through a chemical treatment to remove the horrible taste. Don’t buy it!

Extra virgin is the higher quality oil. I mistakenly thought virgin extra was the oil extracted from the first press but it’s not. It’s literally a classification of quality of an oil produced under very controlled conditions and temperature. However don’t be fooled by label alone. Even the best oils degrade over time and you should always buy the freshest possible – and that means up to 18 months/ 2 years maximum. And, as with everything, there’s a lot of cheating.


img_4889

So how can tell if yours is any good or even the real thing?  Pour a little into a clean glass, warm the glass with one hand and cover it with the other. Swirl it around, then inhale deeply. It should smell of fresh grass, fresh and fruity. Sip it and let it swirl around your mouth. It should be pleasantly bitter and catch you in the throat. The extent of bitterness will depend on the variety of olive but all fresh olive all will be somewhat bitter. That’s a good sign.

img_4901img_4905

The oil produced at El Herrerillo is not only extra virgin but also organically grown and while colour is no indication of quality, I was entranced by the colour of what Alvaro had brought back from the press the night before.He told us it would change with time but this almost unreal lime green blew me away. And the flavour….wow.

freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil

 

So, warmed by the autumn sun and drunk on this freshly pressed nectar, I hastily put in my order for a whopping 10 litres. And it’s all got to be consumed  before next years harvest. Mmmmm.

 

For more info or to place an order contact El Herrerillo directly. Don’t wait too long. Supplies won’t last.

Posted in Food Stories, Pickles and Preserves Tagged , , |

Black Garlic and all things umami

black garlic
I obviously don’t read many food blogs since there are all sorts of new things going on in the food world that I know nothing about.

This recent voyage of discovery started when I noticed something new in our otherwise quite conservative supermarket. Black Garlic. At first I assumed it was an equivalent of purple carrots or orange beetroot. i.e some hybrid to make things look pretty. But, it rang a bell somewhere and I tossed it into my basket.

Back home I realised that it’s not a variety of garlic at all but a naturally fermented garlic, transformed into a totally different product. The cloves are jet black, squiggy and sticky, looking a cross between tamarind and soft liquorice with numerous health benefits

black garlic

So off to Google to check this stuff out and I discover that black garlic, which originates from Asia, has been quite the big thing for a while now. All the top foodie chefs are trying to make their own and incorporate it into all their recipes.

In all this recipe and article reading (totally distracted now from everything on my to-do list) I keep coming across a word I don’t understand: ” umami”. “It’s  a little sweet, a little bitter and umami”. Umami? An adjective? What is umami?

Well, turns out umami is what we normally call yummy, delicious, but that it’s been identified as a the 5th taste along with salty, sweet, sour, bitter. Umami is that irresistible savoury flavour that makes you want to scrape out the roasting pan, mop up all the sauce, lick up all the crumbs at the bottom of the crisp packet. It’s pure yumminess. And its not just the salt or just the sugar. It’s what happens when all these things are combined and set off an explosion of flavour.

The process that occurs when curing and fermenting foods such jamon serrano/prosciutto, parmesan, anchovies, sun dried tomatoes releases pure umami. Our home cured black olives, I now realise are intensely umami. As is, it turns out, black garlic.

Black Garlic
All this resonates with me as I realise that I am addicted to all things umami. I really do crave what I now know to be this officially recognised taste.

And as for the black garlic, it seems you can put it into anything savoury with, or even instead of, fresh garlic. It has no aftertaste or smell associated with fresh garlic yet has a unique deep layered, tangy, caramalised, moreish flavour. I’ve so far crushed it with olive oil and mopped it up with bread, added it to my harissa  and sliced it thinly into a spicy chicken salad, added it to a white bean stew and, as shown below, pasta with mushrooms.

 

dscf5473

Check out these links  and this article, and check out your food stores for some black garlic. Once you try it you will get the idea. You are in for a treat.

pasta wih mushrooms and black garlc

Tagliatelle with mushrooms, black garlic and shaved parmesan. Lots of umami here! (Note: the big dark pieces are shitake mushrooms, The black garlic is cut small)

 

Posted in Pickles and Preserves

Falafel – tasty and authentic

img_4547
This falafel recipe comes by popular request, and I’m not surprised given that there are a lot of strange falafel recipes out there. To begin with, there are the recipes that tell you can use canned chickpeas. You can’t. You can make a chickpea burger with canned chickpeas but not falafel. I’ve seen recipes that include egg, breadcrumbs, flour…. and I’m sure something tasty comes out of it but not an authentic falafel.

Authentic falafel, is made with soaked dry chickpeas or fava beans. They are ground to a paste with spices and fresh herbs, formed into balls and deep fried. Good falafel is crisp and golden on the outside and light and airy on the inside. Light and airy – not heavy and dense.

img_4548
This great recipe was given to me by Moran, an Israeli chef, although his version was enough for about 50 people. This version should be good for at least 8.

I have to be honest, it’s taken me a bit of trial and error to get it right but I’ve finally got it. But bear in mind when you make falafel, they are best eaten absolutely fresh, so they are somewhat labour intensive. You are best to invite your guests into the kitchen with you to join in the fun otherwise you get a bit stuck over a hot stove.

So, the tips and tricks:

  • soak the chickpeas minimum 18 hrs – up to about 30. Less soaking time will make it hard to get the right consistency
  • Grind the mixture with something powerful – a good food processor or meat grinder. You really don’t want raw half chickpeas appearing in your falafel.
  • Make sure your mixture is smooth enough to stick together when rolled into a ball. If it falls apart. it will totally disintegrate in the oil. Don’t add water to make it stick – just grind it finer.
  • Add a tsp of baking powder to the mixture before cooking. It really helps keep the texture light.
  • Keep a close eye on the temperature of the oil when frying
  • The uncooked mixture freezes well but don’t add the baking powder before freezing. Add only before you cook.
  • Eat immediately. Most delicious when hot and freshfalafel scoop

Now in the Middle East you would eat this on the street, piping hot falafel balls stuffed inside a pita with a load of pickles and salad, and hot sauce, and tahina running down your arm. As you munched your way through, you would be topping up  with all those tasty extras. At home you can do just the same. Prepare some small dishes of things like tahini, tsatziki, chopped salad vegetables, slices of roasted vegetables, pickles, and my favourite with falafel, a hot sauce like schug (the best!), and let everyone slather on what they want.  It’s deliciously fun and messy way to eat and I love it!

pickles for falafel

Falafel

Ingredients

Serves 6-8

2 cups dried chickpeas

4-6 garlic cloves

I small to medium onion

Approx 4 or 5 fresh green chilies

I handful fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)

1 handful fresh parsley

1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground coriander seed

1.3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tablespoon baking powder

Oil for frying

Method

  • Soak the chickpeas in water for 18-30 hours. Rinse from time to time. Drain and put into a food processor with onion, garlic, cilantro and parsley. Grind to a rough paste.
  • Add the spices. Remember that freshly roasted whole spices will have more flavour. Process till you have a smoothish paste.The mixture needs to be able to hold together as a ball. Taste to make sure you have enough seasoning.
  • Add baking powder if you are ready to fry. If you plan to let the mixture sit or freeze add only shortly before frying.
  • Prepare a plate with kitchen towel to absorb the oil after frying.
  • In a solid pot, heat about 2-3 inches of oil to what should be around 375 degrees. Form the balls with your hands or into ovals by using two teaspoons, unless of course you have a falafel scoop as in the picture.
  • Drop the first one in and if the oil bubbles and sizzles around the ball  and gently colours it, then you should be good to go. Leave it for 2-3 minutes, flipping if necessary. If it browns very quickly then your oil is too hot. Lower the temperature and try again.
  • Scoop it out and put onto kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Then begin frying the rest in small batches of 4 or 5. Don’t overcrowd the pan as it will lower the temperature. Don’t let the oil get too hot either or it will overcook the outside too quickly and it wont cook the inside. This frying part is the most crucial to get the perfect falafel! It should be golden brown on the outside, pale green on the inside…. and incredibly tasty. 

  My friend Silvia doing some food tasting and modelling. 

 

Posted in Street food, Vegetarian

Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango Lime salad

 

spices
“Seriously? You’re going to Notting Hill carnival today?” was the overall reaction from our friends. Sunday -‘family day’- is apparently the day to go to London’s annual Bank Holiday event, and this year there had only been 3 reported stabbings. Monday? Well Monday, it seems, is hard core. You have to be mad to go on the Monday.
It really wasn’t hard core when we were there. Sure, there was lots of drinking but it was mainly about pushing through crowds and people watching. Police were stoically lining the pavements, looking like they would rather be anywhere else on this hot Bank Holiday afternoon. I guess they knew what was coming later as the party atmosphere turned into a drunken mess.

Hat seller

We however didn’t stick around for that. We watched the floats, we watched the bands and we inhaled the pervading smells of marijuana and jerk chicken. As soon as people started collapsing at our feet we squeezed our way out.

But needless to say, I wasn’t leaving till I got my try of the jerk chicken It wasn’t easy. It seems the smell of spicy grilled meat got to everyone at the same time and every stall had a hungry crowd pushing to the front of a disorderly queue.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The chicken, when I eventually got it, was really tasty and whetted my appetite for more. Back home I went straight online for the recipe only to discover there are so many versions. Some use rum, others ginger but all of them include allspice berries and scotch bonnet peppers and in the end the recipe below from Food and Wine was the one I went for.

img_4475

You have to try it to know how good it is. What wonderful flavours! Despite its blackened, burnt appearance, the skin is still moist and delicious.

Traditionally, jerk chicken is served with rice and peas but I felt like something fresh and crunchy and made a Caribbean inspired mango lime salad.
img_4492

 

Grilled Jerk Chicken

Ingredients

I medium onion, choppedAllspice, nutmeg and chillies

3 spring onions, chopped

2 Scotch bonnet chilies – or habaneros – chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 tbs Chinese five spice powder

1 tbs allspice berries – coarsely ground

1 tbs coarsely ground black pepper

I tsp dried thyme

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 ts[ salt

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 tbs vegetable oil

6 chicken quarters – skin on  (leg+thigh)

Method

  • Combine the onion and spices in a food processor and blend to a coarse paste. Then, machine on,  slowly add the soy sauce and oil. Pour into a shallow dish or zip lock bag, add the chicken pieces, turn to coat. Lift the skin and press some of the marinade inside. Cover if using a dish. Put into the fridge overnight  – or longer- to marinate.
  • Remove from the fridge at least half an hour before cooking to allow the chicken to return to room temperature.
  • Prepare your grill. Sear the chicken quickly on both sides directly over the fire then move to one side to cook through – approximately 30 -40 minutes. Turn the pieces over frequently to avoid burning. Like all BBQ chicken, it’s ready when the flesh near the bone is no longer pink.

If you want to serve it with the following Mango Lime salad try this:

Cut into strips and combine mango, red pepper, green or purple onion, cucumber. Place on a bed of rocket (arugula). Garnish with lots of fresh mint and coriander leaves

Make a dressing with olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, lime zest, salt, pepper and a little sugar. 

And if you don’t have mango, try making it with some crisp apple. It would work too!

 

img_4466

And, please note that  although the BBQ  is the most traditional method of cooking jerk chicken. you can also cook it in the oven, Give it a quick searing fry first then place it in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. You will be licking your fingers with this one!

 

 

Posted in Chicken

Caper Berries Andaluz

caper berries
“The best capers I’ve ever eaten,” says my friend Elina. “You’ve got to try them”

And so it is that she fixes me up to meet Antonio, from a family of master caper makers.

I meet Antonio on the side of long hot dusty road and we drive down a side track to find the caper bushes. I had in mind a vast area of capers but in fact we just pull up wherever he sees an accessible bush that doesn’t require too much awkward climbing. The soil is baked dry and the southern Spanish sun relentless and it’s hard to believe that these bushes can survive these conditions let alone produce an abundance of flowers and fruit.

IMG_3883

Antonio’s hands are scratched from the spiky thorns. Capers have to be picked by hand and their camouflage can make them tricky to spot. Once you see one you have to ease your hand in carefully and grab the caper by the stem. IMG_3904

There are two stages of edible capers, he tells me. The small bud – the little round capers most commonly sold outside the Mediterranean, and the less known caper berry, the fruit following the flower, which looks like something between and olive and a mini watermelon. In Spanish this is the alcaparron (big caper) vs alcaparra . ‘Big caper’ is correct. Some of these are huge.IMG_3877

Antonio has been out picking since 7 am and has filled a sack and a bucket. So, as the sun is getting hotter and higher in the cloudless July sky, we head home to see what he does with them.

It’s a relief to get into his cool, shady patio, where capers at various stages of processing await us. He sits down with the morning’s harvest and shows me how to check they are tender, which he does with the tip of a sharp knife. One by one, each caper is tested and the hard ones tossed to the side. On the other side of the narrow street, his father is doing the same.

IMG_3918

IMG_3992

The caper berries that pass the test go straight into a brine solution where they remain covered for a week. Then they are rinsed and put into a pickling solution of vinegar, water, garlic, green peppers and handfuls of wild mountain oregano.

What I love is that the capers themselves are wild and that everything else that Antonio uses for pickling is local: the garlic and peppers grown in his vegetable garden, the sherry vinegar from a local bodega, the herbs gathered from the surrounding hills and the salt from the nearby salt pans.  The 3 mile diet!

IMG_3927

Capers

IMG_3966

It takes just a few days till the capers are edible but their unique flavour matures with time. 
Once they are ready they can be eaten whole like olives, chopped into salads and sauces or used as a garnish. The natural flavours of Spain, and delicious.

tomato with mozzarella and capers

If you live in the area and are interested in trying these caper berries, let me know and I will put you in touch with Antonio. He sells directly from his home and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed! And if you don’t live nearby, look out for them in specialist food stores. They won’t be quite as home made and natural as these but they will still be good.

IMG_3941

 

Posted in Food Stories, Pickles and Preserves

Grilled flatbread with Green Charmoula

flat bread with green chermoulaA couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to master the art of pita making. Well, even if I wasn’t able to master it then at least I could try for something better than the thin,dry supermarket pita I get here. I found a recipe online which was so easy and so good that within two attempts I made pita which tasted as anything I’ve had anywhere. This recipe links to a step by step video which is so clear and simple that you can’t go wrong. My supermarket pita days are over. (Why the hell did I wait so long….?)

Greatly encouraged by my success, I decided to venture further into the world of flatbreads. I found a recipe on Epicurious that produced exactly what I was looking for – a soft and slightly chewy texture with lots of flavour. Like the pita, it isn’t complicated to make but this dough is quite wet and sticky so be prepared!

I followed the original recipe as faithfully as I could, only substituting Greek yoghurt for sour cream and using only strong white flour rather than a white/wholemeal mix. I loved the results.

I also made the green charmoula salsa to spread on top and which looks just like the schug of the previous post, but is quite different. This one is a blend of mint, parsley, cilantro and ginger and is also utterly delicious.

green charmousla

The great thing about a flatbread like this is you can leave the dough to rise in the fridge for up to 2 days in advance so there’s no last minute mess. Right when you want to prepare it, just take it out – or take a part of it out –  and cook it.  It cooks in a matter of minutes. And the fresher the better….

flatbread on the plancha

I loved the minty green charmoula with sprinkles of parmesan cheese and will make it again but the options for toppings are endless. Try the schug, try pesto, try sun dried tomato paste, just try anything you fancy. Roll it round a kebab, some spicy roast lamb, top it with artichokes, cheese and prosciutto or jamon….

flatbread and green charmoula

Here is the flatbread recipe for 8 generous portions. It may be good to make half first time round.

Flatbread dough

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour   OR  7 cups strong white flour
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yoghurt
  • Vegetable oil (for brushing)
  • Method

  1. Dissolve yeast in 3 cups of warm water in a large bowl. Stir. Add  flour and mix with your fingertips until it forms a shaggy dough  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle salt over dough, then add sour cream/yoghurt; knead until well incorporated and dough pulls away from sides of bowl and holds together in a loose, wet ball, about 5 minutes (dough will be very soft, wet an sticky; moisten your hands to prevent sticking if needed). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  3. Punch dough down and knead very briefly to knock out all the air. Cover and chill for up to 2 days. It will rise slowly in fridge and the flavour will continue to develop. Or you can let the dough stand at room temperature until doubled in size, 3-4 hours depending on the air temperature.  Chill for 1 hour before grilling to make it easier to handle.
  4. To cook, use either a plancha (as I did) , a charcoal grill or a gas grill on high. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Generously flour your work surface and roll or press out the pieces of dough with your hands into a 1/4″-thick. into rustically uneven rectangles.
  5. Lightly oil your surface and grill your flatbreads for a few minutes on each side. They may puff up a bit but that’s good. Remove, put your topping on immediately and eat while still piping hot and delicious.

freshly cooked flatbread


The Green Charmoula

  • A couple of hot green chilies
  • Handful of mint leaves
  • Handful of flat parsley leaves
  • Handful of cilantro leaves
  • I tsp fresh chopped ginger
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, black pepper
  • Squeeze or two of lemon juice

Whizz it all in a blender/food processor. Add more olive oil as desired.

 

Now I’ve read that you can produce something similar using store-bought pizza dough which of course would save you some work. But there’s nothing like the sense of satisfaction that you get from doing it yourself and that for me is half the fun!

DSCF4371

Posted in Spices and sauces, Starters and tapas, Sweet and baked Tagged , , |

Schug – a Yemenite hot sauce


green chilies in IndiaIt’s a very weird word Schug…How do you even pronounce it let alone spell it? Schoog maybe. Anyway, call it what you want, it’s a wonderful fiery cilantro based Yemenite hot sauce that you can use to brighten up almost everything. If you are familiar with the commercial version – the little red and green jars, then think again. This quick and easy homemade version is a million times better –  a million times fresher and tastier.

DSCF4295
It could be mistaken for a salsa verde – which essentially it is since it is a green sauce but it has a uniquely Middle Easter flavour from the coriander leaves, (cilantro), spices and green chillies.

What do you eat it with? Schug is like the wonderful harissa I’m hooked on  You can eat it with anything you like. It’s perfect with things like hummus and falafel but it’s also fantastic drizzled on a piece of bread and fresh goats cheese. Just make it and I promise you will find ways to use it.

 

schug

Putting a small bowl of something like this on the table is guaranteed to satisfy any of those spice and chilli addicts, no matter what else you serve. And you can obviously control the heat by controlling the amount of seeds you put in and, of course, the variety of green chili. It doesn’t have to blow your head off.

schug

It’s not always easy to know how hot a chile pepper is but one way is to smell it. You can often detect the heat through your nose. If that revels nothing then you just have to gingerly try it, starting outside and work your way in – leaving the seeds to the very last. I usually cut the end off a chile and cautiously test with the tip of my tongue. If it’s hot, that will be enough to find out and won’t kill me in the process!

Schug

garlic and chili peppersIngredients

3 hot green chilis (with or without seeds depending on variety and your heat tolerance)

3  cloves garlic

Big handful of coriander leaves (cilantro)

Smaller handful of flat parsley leaves (optional)

1/3 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds ( I dry roast and grind mine)

Seeds from 3-4 cardamon pods –  ground

1/2 tsp salt

Black pepper

Olive oil (approx 1/3 cup)

A squeeze of lemon

Method

  • If you don’t want it very hot, carefully de-seed your chilis. Avoid touching the inside or put on latex gloves – especially if you wear contact lenses and are going to touch your eyes anytime soon.
  • Simply blend all the ingredients together either in a pestle and mortar or  – much easier – with a hand blender. Whizz around till it forms a rough paste, adding olive oil as required. Adjust salt to taste. Salt brings out all the other flavours so don’t skimp.

And thats it. It takes all of 5 minutes to put together and a little goes a long way. Delicious…! And please let me know what you do with it.

tahina and schug

Posted in Spices and sauces

Grilled Artichokes

IMG_2845
Artichokes…such strange things to eat. We nibble away at the ends of the leaves like biting stems of grass. Of course, as you go on, there’s more to bite until the leaves get so tender you can almost eat them all. And then, the prize, the heart, the delicate tender heart.

The problem is you can really only eat one at a time because lets face it, once you’ve finally made it to the really tasty part, who wants to start again? I don’t.

Perhaps we should only eat one at a time, slowly and patiently, but at this time of year, these baby artichokes are so cheap that you can’t really just buy one per person. Last week they were selling for as little as 50 cents a kilo, and for a kilo I got 8.

IMG_2105

At prices like that you can certainly afford to discard all those tough outer leaves guilt free and go straight to the heart of the matter.  And even if you live somewhere where they aren’t so cheap and you are only going to eat one, then this is still a great way to savour them.

What to do….

Put a pot of salted water on to boil and cut off the pointy top of the artichoke and trim the stem.IMG_2837

Then take off all the tough outer leaves till you are left with the paler tender leaves enclosing the heart. Rub some lemon as you go to stop them from turning brown. Drop the hearts into the pan of boiling salted water and par-cook for a couple of minutes until the artichokes stems become slightly tender – but not fully cooked.

Remove from the water and drain well. Cut them in half lengthways and place them in a dish. Pour over some olive oil, lemon, salt,  black pepper and any other fresh herbs you fancy. Allow to marinate for at least an hour.IMG_2843

I like to cook them on the plancha, a griddle, but a skillet would work fine as would a BBQ. If you are using the plancha or skillet, heat some olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt, then sear the marinated artichokes until they turn golden. If you are using a BBQ then just pop them right on.

Eat as they are or roll them around in the left over marinade. Parmesan – grated or shaved – would work well too, now that I think about it ..hhmm… next time.grilled artichoke hearts

Posted in Starters and tapas, Vegetables and salads Tagged , , , , |

Carrot and Ginger Soup

carrot and ginger soup

 

It feels a bit strange giving this recipe for carrot and ginger soup because I’ve got a feeling that a lot of you already make it.  So, if you don’t, then this one is for you, because it’s a really good simple recipe that just totally hits the spot every time.  I got this from my friend Joy (A) in my early Canada days and it’s been my go-to soup recipe  ever since. Warm, deep and velvety smooth – it’s just lovely.

Ginger, they say, is good for digestion. Carrots are cheap as chips. And that’s basically all you need apart from some good stock. If you want to vary it you can throw in some squash, parsnips or some sweet potato. Just don’t leave out that ginger.

a bunch of carrots

This particular recipe has a flour/milk roux base which makes it creamy smooth. I’ve found that you can substitute that with coconut milk. It will change the flavour but keep the texture and it’s also really delicious. Just add about a cup of coconut milk towards the of the cooking.

Carrot and Ginger Soup

fresh ginger

Ingredients

1 onion

2 tbs butter

Approx 6-7  medium size carrots peeled and cut into chunks

2 tbs flour

3/4 cup milk

1.5 tsp coarsly grated fresh ginger

Approx 2-3 cups chicken stock

salt/black pepper

Parsley or fennel fronds to garnish

Optional: a pinch of  dried chilli to make it hotter (my preference)

 

How to make it

  • Sauté the onion in the butter and then add the carrots. Season with salt and black pepper and cook – stirring –  for a a few minutes.
  • Add the flour, stirring it in quickly then add the milk and mix till you have thick creamy roux.
  • Gradually add the chicken stock and the grated ginger. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for about 20-30 minutes – until the carrots soften and are ready for blending.
  • Blend well till the soup is silky smooth. Add more liquid if it seems too thick.
  • Check your seasoning and add some freshly grated ginger if you want yet more kick.
  • Garnish with some finely chopped parsley or fennel leaves.

 

carrot and ginger soup

The deep, warm flavours of this soup are perfect for these cold winter days but it’s great chilled in the summer too. Basically, it’s just the perfect soup! Give it a try.

Posted in Soups

Shakshouka

shakshouka
Many are the meals you have to make with no plan and almost nothing to cook with. yet often they turn out to be the best.  Here’s an easy, tasty meal that never fails me and with even the barest of cupboards, I almost always have the ingredients for – shakshouka.

Shakshouka originates from North Africa and is a popular breakfast/brunch dish in Israel where you can find restaurants which specialize in it exclusively. There are endless variations of this dish, each getting more elaborate than the next, but I find this basic version deliciously satisfying  – at any time of day.

 

eggs

Before you start make sure you have a lid to cover your frying pan.

Ingredients

Serves 2

4 eggs – preferably free range

olive oil

I medium onion sliced

I can tomatoes (obviously you can use fresh tomatoes too if you want)

I heaped tablespoon tomato paste (concentrate)

Half a red pepper sliced (optional)

I heaped tsp freshly ground coriander seeds

A healthy pinch of dried chili flakes – or fresh if you have it.

Salt, black pepper

Coriander leaves (cilantro) to finish

 

Method

  • Start by making the tomato sauce. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions till they are translucent.
  • Next add the red pepper then the tomato puree and coriander seeds and fry for a few minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and chili flakes and season with salt and pepper and cook till you have a thick spicy sauce.
  • Now, gently break the eggs directly onto the sauce and cover your pan with a lid.  The eggs will poach on the sauce but keep your eye on them. As soon as the white are cooked, it should be ready. Be careful not to overcook – the yokes should not get hard.
  • Sprinkle with chopped coriander leaves -or parsley – and serve straight out of the pan with some fresh bread to mop it all up.

 

shakshouka

 

Posted in Vegetarian Tagged , , , |

Pan Seared Red Snapper with Sumac

 

fish market Lisbon

Another New Year and another opportunity to make some resolutions.  My resolutions always revolve around organisation so I’m proud to say that I’ve already got off to a good start. If you check on the navigation bar under FOOD BLOG you will see that there is now a RECIPE INDEX. Clicking this will take you a page where you can quickly find any recipe I’ve posted . No more endless irritating scrolling! Check it out….

After all the holiday over eating, I’m opting now for a slightly lighter, healthier diet and what could be lighter and healthier than fresh fish. The idea of cooking fish sends a lot of people into a panic. Whereas meat and chicken leave a lot of margin of error, fish seems to be a bit in the make it or break it category. There’s nothing more disappointing than an overcooked fish. So, what’s the trick? How can you be sure to get it right?

Mackerel , Cadiz MarketFirstly, it’s important that your fish is perfectly fresh. You can tell if it’s fresh by looking at its eyes and its gills. The eyes need to be bright and shiny and in no way sunken. Sunken eyes = old fish. And the gills should be bright pink and moist.  Also check the flesh. It should feel firm and slightly bouncy. If you are buying steaks or fillets then you need to check that the flesh is solid and moist. If the flesh is separating then it’s not a good sign. And obviously, use your nose. Fish should not smell fishy.

 

Red Snapper with sumac

And secondly, it’s important not to overcook fish or you will dry it out. Watch to see the eyes turn white. Also keep your eye on the cut area of the gut cavity which will become opaque as the fish cooks. Touch the skin. You should be able to tell from the texture and most importantly, given that its easier to overcook than undercook a fish, don’t cook it for too long.

 

One of the simplest and nicest ways to cook a whole fresh fish is a la plancha. A plancha  is a heavy flat pan. It is similar to a a skillet but has no sides so no moisture builds up inside. Our simple inexpensive plancha (Carrefour), which sits directly on the gas burnerhas become one of my favourite cooking utensils. I can use it for almost everything. You can get away with much less oil than in a regular frying pan as it builds up a lot of heat yet doesn’t make things stick.

Pan Seared Red Snapper with Sumac

Serves 2. Cooking time: 12-15  mins.

Ingredients

2 whole red snapper  weighing approx 350-400 grams each (or any other whole fresh fish)

coarse grain salt

sumac

black pepper

1 dried chili

olive oil

lemon and chopped parsley to finish

Method

  • Sprinkle some coarse salt and sumac  and black pepper onto and inside your fish
  • Heat the pan. Pour on a little olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse grain salt.
  • Throw on the dried chilli. Let it cook a bit to release some flavour then remove it.
  • Place the fish onto the hot oil and salt and cook for about 3-4 minutes each side, twice, i.e cook both sides twice. This way you won’t burn the skin. Just be careful when you turn it. Be gentle.
  • Remove from the heat and sprinkle on some chopped parsley and serve with wedges of lemon.

Pan Seared Red Snapper with Suman

 

Please note, this is a basic cooking method and you can use it whether or not you have sumac (or a griddle pan) If you don’t have sumac, try replacing it with some lemon zest and dill. It will be just as delicious.

Posted in Fish and seafood Tagged , , , , |

Dukkah

Nuts and spices Egyptian style
Dukkah

My plans for the “Greek” blog have been thwarted once again. No sooner had I unpacked and started to settle back into life and a working internet, when the phone rang. On the other end, the realtor selling our house in Canada where we previously lived, telling us that a hot water tank had burst and flooded one end of the house. A quick call to the insurance company and we went spiralling downward into a series of problems, each one worse than the last. There was nothing for it. We repacked our suitcases with winter clothes and flew off to Vancouver before anything else could go wrong.

Yes, I know, its the price you pay etc. etc. and for the next two weeks we tried  to catch up on the long neglected maintenance that comes to absentee landlords.  Up at the crack of dawn every day (jet lag helped with that one) we cleaned, burned, fixed, vacuumed, raked, pruned, dumped, bleached and scrubbed away the six years of renters.

WP_20151105_008

The days were busy but the evenings were spent in the company of our lovely friends who took us back in as though we had never left. On one such evening, my friend Joyce made this fantastic Egyptian snack that I had all but forgotten about – Dukkah. Sitting in her cosy log house, we dipped our chunks of bread in olive oil then savoured the fragrant spices of the Middle East.

Dukkah

Dukkah is one of those things that takes only minutes to prepare yet totally takes you by surprise.  The ingredients are standard but combine to make something special. Dukkah keeps well so you can make it in advance or just have it on hand for a quick snack.

Joyce made her Dukkah with pistachios but you can make it with almonds, cashews, peanuts or hazelnuts. I made mine with almonds and hazelnuts. This is the recipe we followed

Dukkah ingredientsPistachio Dukkah (courtesy of Hugh Fearnley whattsits)

I cup/120 gr shelled unsalted pistachios (or other nuts, See above)

1 tbs cumin seeds

1 tbs coriander seeds

3 tbs sesame seeds

Some chopped mint leaves

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tsp flaky sea salt

Method

Unless your nuts are already roasted, you will need to preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast them for about 5 minutes. Cool and chop coarsely.

Roast the spices in a small dry frying pan over medium heat. They will quickly begin to release their aroma. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and bash them till they break up. Lightly toast the sesame seeds (if they are not already)

Add the nuts to the mortar and pestle and bash all together till it’s all crumbly and crunchy ( I did mine in batches). Add the sesame seeds, chilli and salt and chopped mint.

Dukkah with carrots

Traditionally, you tear off a piece of flatbread, dip it in olive oil then into the dukkah. You can of course use other types of bread. Because it’s basically a nut/ spice mixture it lends itself to being eaten in lots of different ways – like with raw veggies or as a coating for fish, chicken, pork chops etc It would be great sprinkled on roasted vegetables such as cauliflower or potatoes. I’m definitely going to have to make another batch before I experiment further since right now I’m having trouble stopping myself eating it by the spoonful straight out of the bowl.

Give it a try. Serve it with drinks, add to a mezze, or take to a potluck. It’s well worth it. And let me know what you think in the comments box below.

Dukkah in a blue bowl

 

Posted in Starters and tapas Tagged , , , , |

Halloumi Saganaki

Halloumi Greece was wonderful – an oasis of jasmine and bougainvillea, crystal clear deep turquoise water, constant sun, views of islands are far as the eye could see BUT terrible internet.

After I tired of sitting outside cafes with free Wifi, Manu, the lovely internet guy in the square, fixed me up with a signal from his grandma’s house across the town. It turned out that if I placed my computer on the window ledge in the bedroom, I was in a direct line to her house and could therefore get her signal. Now, apart from the fact that I was perched in the most uncomfortable, contorted position, the signal was off more than it was on. I discovered that on Greek islands the telephone lines go down for all sorts of reasons – excessive heat, excessive humidity, power surges, power failures…and no doubt excessive cold but we didn’t stick around long enough to find that one out. Anyway, once down,  how long till it gets fixed? Between 3 -10 days usually. Rarely more that 10 days, Manu assured me. Argghhhh.

 

leros view

After the third or forth time it went down, I got the picture. The frustration didn’t seem worth it and I gave up.

And so my food blog came to a halt. I have a bunch of half written posts that never saw the light of day which is a pity since the food we were eating was wonderful and I had so much to share.

The beauty of Greek island food comes from the fact that it is almost all home cooked. The island barely has supermarkets let alone Macros and Costcos so food is generally natural and cooked on the spot. The other thing I loved was the balance in the food. Greeks serve a lot of fresh vegetables so each meal comes accompanied by lots of salads and small tasty dishes.

What I’m going to do here is share a few of my favourites – dishes I’m going to continue making now I’m back in Spain and top of that list is Saganaki cheese.  Saganaki refers to a small two handled frying pan but it’s come to refer to a style of cooking.  Saganki cheese is fried cheese – yes, loaded with calories but oh so good…! For years I’ve been guiltily hooked on fried halloumi which is a soft slightly rubbery cheese that comes from Cyprus. It tastes dull as is, but amazing when fried and gets all soft and melty inside. It comes vacuum packed and keeps for ages in the fridge so really worth buying when you come across it. The other cheeses that are commonly used for saganaki are also made from sheep’s milk –Kasseri, Graviera, Kefalograviera and Kefalotyri  and vary in their saltiness in this order, Kasseri being the least salty. Try them all if you can get hold of them.

HalloumiThe cooking method is simple.

  • Cut your cheese into 1- 1.5cm slices and dredge both sides in seasoned flour. You will get about 8 slices from a pack of halloumi.
  • Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a solid bottom pan and then fry your cheese slices  for a few minutes till they start to melt. Flip over and cook for a minute or two more. Each side should be golden brown.
  • Remove carefully with a spatula.

Now they should have a crusty coating and you can just squeeze some lemon on top as they do in Greece, or get a bit more elaborate.

My favourite dressing for halloumi is made with olive oil, lime, garlic, and capers. Yes I know, calories on calories…and it gets worse because it tastes so good with fresh crusty bread. Utterly sinful, but utterly delicious and a guaranteed way to wow your guests.

lime caper dressing

Lime Caper Dressing (Delia Smith)

2 tbs Olive oil

juice and zest of 1 lime

1 tbs white wine vinegar

1 finey chopped clove garlic

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 tbs capers

I tbs chopped coriander leaves

salt and black pepper

 

 

 

Feel free to improvise with the dressing. I’ve made a dressing by blending coriander (cilantro) leaves, chilli, garlic, olive oil and lime – a kind of green harissa.  You could try a mint, olive oil/lemon dressing, or even with something  fruity like a mango or watermelon salsa. Halloumi  tastes wonderful with everything!

halloumi saganaki

 

Posted in Starters and tapas Tagged , , |

Goats Cheese Greek Style – Mezithra

It’s been many years since I was last in Greece. Greece was my first bit of independent travel – sleeping on beaches and the roofs of half built hotels. Living on gyro wraps and stuffed tomatoes. Curing evil hangovers from ‘Domestos” and Retsina by throwing myself into the azure sea. There were men playing backgammon, women in black, donkeys and olive trees and hillsides carpeted with thyme

So what a surprise that so little has changed. At least here, on the sun drenched island of Leros, life on the Greek islands is just about as I remember it.

IMG_0028

The tiny square below our house is a microcosm of traditional island life. The same people in the same place every day: father and son sitting expectantly outside their vegetable shop, the souvlaki man attending his grill, Maria behind the counter in the bakery, the men playing backgammon intently outside the café. Others just watching to see who goes by. We are becoming familiar faces. Everybody nods a we pass: kalimera, kalispera, kalinichta…..

WP_20150731_015

I’ve been trying to find out what food this island produces and am pleased to discover just how many people still live close to the land. We’ve been living on a diet of locally produced food – from ripe vegetables to marinated fish, milk fed lamb, thyme scented honey, and of course, goats cheese.

IMG_0002

Last week I went to see how they make the island’s specialty, a cheese called Mezithra. It was much like the visit to Domingo’s  in the south of Spain– but Greek style with the usual disdain for the EU. No white caps and overalls, just Michalis in a rambling shack under a grape vine. Here he is stirring his curds over a wood fired stove with a palm branch.

IMG_9877

Michalis hands us a plate of steaming ricotta, the basis for Myzithra. It’s warm and slightly sweet and reminds me of scrambled eggs. Once salted and dried it hardens into something quite sharp and crumbly and is commonly used instead of parmesan on top of pasta.

IMG_9902

Michalis is the fourth generation of cheese makers in his family and like Domingo, he makes a range from fresh to aged cheeses, though unlike Domingo, leaves me very confused about which is which. While he dashes back and forth between stirring and herding and sheering goats, his sprightly 94 year old father chats to us in an incomprehensible mixture of Greek and Italian. I am none the wiserIMG_9948

 

IMG_9944

 

 

IMG_9916

 

 

 

IMG_9935

 

IMG_9879

 

IMG_9925

I’m told that this cheese used to be cured in the sea which sounds very romantic to me. Nowadays, however, it is rolled in salt and left to cure much the same way I saw in Spain. However, after curing, it is rolled in olive oil and wine sediment which gives it a dark brown oily coating. And the taste? Wonderful. Full of the flavours of all the wild herbs and leaves the goats have been eating – of thyme, oregano, pistachio and a touch of wine. Quite different from any goats cheese I’ve had before. DSCF1562

But competition, I’m told, is tough. This same style vacuum packed cheese is sold all over Leros. At first I assumed it all came from the same source but apparently not. People have copied him, he complains. “Why don’t you put a label on yours?” I say to Michalis, offering a bit of marketing advice. “I never know which one is yours.” “Ticket?” he says excitedly, having understood me. “You want ticket?” and he rummages around in the drawer to find one of his labels to stick on my cheese.

Oh well, I suppose this is why you can come back after so much time and find so little has changed
– and in this mad world there’s something to be said for that.

IMG_9967

And the hangovers? Oh yes, you can still get them too!

IMG_9852

Posted in Food Stories Tagged , , , , , , |

Notes from a Greek Island

Leros, GreeceGreece is all over the news these days – drowning in debt, on the verge of collapse, on the brink of total disaster  – and no doubt all that is true. But from where I’m sitting, in the pocket size library on the corner of a busy little square on the island of Leros, it all feels very different.

Yes, there are abandoned houses for sale and empty shopfronts and all the signs of economic crisis but there’s an energy and a vibrance and a resilience about these people that makes me feel that the Greeks will get through this just fine. They have known hard times before.

They are a defiant bunch. There’s a refreshing lawlessness here on the island, which makes it hard to believe that they are part of the EU with all its its laws and regulations. They zip around on scooters without helmets, drive their beaten up old cars without seat belts, park wherever and however they fancy. You can buy fish from a crate on the back of a motorbike, vegetables from the trunk of a car. There’s food for sale in the most surprising of places.

Taxes are about to go up and the islands will lose their special privileges. Life is going to get even more expensive. But this is an island of hardworking farmers and fisherman and is overflowing with wonderful homegrown produce and a love of good food. The news sounds awful but here here on ground zero, the sun shines every day, the sea is cool and crystal clear, there are a lot of warm welcoming smiles – and life feels really good.

DSCF1046

Posted in Food Stories

Smokey aubergine and Baba Ganoush

DSCF0642Yes more aubergine and this has to be one of the quickest and easiest ways to cook aubergine. However, there is one requirement and that is that you need a flame. If you cook on an electric stovetop this isn’t going to work. For this one you need gas – or a charcoal BBQ I guess.

This cooking method is easy albeit a bit messy. You will be left with a few charred bits and drips on your hob, but don’t be put off – the result is delicIMG_5248ious and its well worth it.

Simply put your aubergine directly onto the flame. Have some tongs handy to move it around making sure that every bit gets cooked. It doesn’t take long – 5 -8 minutes I would say. When the aubergine looks evenly limp and blistered then take it off the gas and leave it to cool. It should be soft from top to bottom with no hard areas

Once it’s cool enough to handle, peel away the blackened skin but don’t be too fastidious. Leave some specks because thats where the delicious smokeyIMG_5255 flavour comes from.

Some amber coloured liquid will come out but thats fine.  Gently squeeze out as much as you can,. Whatever you do, don’t rinse the aubergine under the tap!

IMG_8929
After that you can decide what you want to do. There are various options. You can simply break it up with a fork and add some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and parsley and serve it like that. 

Or you can go further and add some crushed garlic and finely chopped salady things like tomato, red or green pepper, purple onion, parsley, cilantro……

IMG_5273

And then there is  the famous Baba Ganoush, which requires adding tahina (tahini) to the plain mashed aubergine mixture.

Tahini/tahina is to sesame seeds what peanut butter is to peanuts – it’s a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. If you have a very high powered blender you can make your own but if you are buying it then look for  an authentic Middle Eastern make – preferably Lebanese. You want it as smooth and light as possible.

Tahini comes out of the jar thick and lumpy and you need to work it into a smooth paste. Scoop out a few tablespoons and gradually work in a bit of water and mix vigorously. A fork works best. It might look like its going to curdle but keep stirring and it will start to become smooth and creamy. Once it smooths out add some lemon juice which will make it lighter in colour. Then season with salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and keep mixing. Finally mix in some olive oil. By this stage it should be smooth and silky but not runny – it needs to be like a thick cream and not a thin sauce. If yours is too thin, add more tahina and blend it in. Adjust the season to your taste.

DSCF0654

Now, how much lemon, how much garlic? It’s a matter of personal taste. I add all my seasoning to the tahina then mix that into the aubergine and adjust as necessary. Personally,  I find one clove of garlic enough. In any case you should leave it to sit for a while before making final adjustments as it needs time for the flavours to permeate.  Finish it off with chopped parsley – or coriander leaves (cilantro) if you prefer and scoop it it with fresh warm pitta .

 

 

 

 

Posted in Starters and tapas Tagged , , |

The Serene Aubergine

Tunisian AubergineDSCF5475

Its hard to believe that there is not one single aubergine recipe on this whole blog, since aubergine is something I love and cook all the time in a multitude of ways. Time to correct this I think, and start a mini series of my favourite ways of cooking this quintessential mediterranean vegetable.

IMG_8847-2
Aubergine – a.k.a eggplant – has changed in recent years. You used to have to let it sit sprinkled with salt to get rid of all the bitter juice before you could do anything with it. Far from bitter, the varieties we get now are so mild that you are lucky if they taste of anything at all.

Having said that, this recipe below always comes out incredibly tasty. It’s a long standing favourite of mine, and one that many of you reading will recognise from numerous potluck parties. It is Tunisian in origin and is an adaptation of Delia Smith’s adaptation of Elizabeth David’s recipe. According to Delia, you should prepare it the day before you serve it but I have to confess to having made it many a time the same afternoon and no one has ever complained!

If this recipe sounds a bit labour intensive I can assure you it isn’t at all. You make the tomato mixture while the aubergines are roasting in the oven, and you dry roast and grind your spices while the tomato mixture is simmering. It’s easy.

I’m a great one for improvisations but I do think it’s important to stick to the spices in this if you want the real depth of flavour. I also encourage you to use whole cumin and allspice berries and dry roast and grind them. You will be missing something if you don’t.

Tunisian Aubergine with with Mint and Greek YoghurtIMG_8826

 

Ingredients

2 medium large aubergines

I large onion chopped

cumin and allspice berries3 cloves garlic – finely chopped

I red chilli finely chopped – or hot chilli flakes

2/3 can diced tomatoes (avoid adding too much of the juice)

I heaped tablespoon tomato puree

4-5 sun dried tomatoes (optional)

I heaped teaspoon cumin

I heaped teaspoon allspice berries

salt

black pepper

olive oil

small handful chopped fresh mint

fresh chopped coriander leaves

Greek yoghurt

Method

Preheat your oven to 220 C/450.F oven roasted aubergineCut the aubergine into 1 /2inch cubes. Toss in olive oil, some salt and spread on a baking tray Bake for 25 minutes, until the aubergine chunks are slightly tinged at the edges but still soft and creamy in the centre.

While the aubergine is in the oven, make the tomato mixture. Gently fry the onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil a large skillet for about 5 minutes. When they are pale gold in colour, add the tomato puree, fry briefly, then the tomatoes (not too much juice) and the chopped sun dried tomatoes if using. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes till thick and chunky. It should not be at all watery.

While all that is cooking, dry roast your spices for a minute or so, then remove from the heat and grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle. Take a moment to inhale the intoxicating smell of the roasted spices, and when you’ve returned from the bazaar in Tunisia, add them to the tomato mixture along with some coarse black pepper and mix.

Once the aubergine is ready, mix it into the tomato mixture and cook gently for a few more minutes so that all the flavours combine. Allow it to cool completely.

When you area ready to serve, preferably after a night in the fridge according to Delia, sprinkle over the freshly chopped herbs and a good drizzle of olive oil and, if you wish, a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt. This one is a keeper.

Serve as part of a mezze type meal with pitta .

 

Tunisian aubergine with Greek yoghurt

Posted in Starters and tapas Tagged , , , , |

Greener than green

greens with olive oil and lemon

Our  organic vegetable box arrives every Tuesday, a hue of vibrant green. There are leaves of every shape and form and sometimes it’s hard to tell what is what.  Some come with vegetables attached. others bunched together with a rubber band. For a long time, half of it went straight to the compost. I hacked off the carrot leaves, the radish leaves, the turnip leaves and sent them back to nature.

radishes

But not anymore. I’ve recently realised that if you use these leaves while they are still garden fresh, they are delicious  – and no doubt nutritious.

All you have to do is give them a good wash, then plunge them into boiling salted water for a couple of minutes. Take them out and drain them well and while they are still warm, pour over a glug or two of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, some salt and black pepper and you are done.

Just be careful not to overcook them – they just need to wilt. Then shake off as much water as you can when you drain them. You can eat this as a type of warm salad/side dish or even use them as a topping for bruschetta.

dandelion leaves

 

You can cook all the greens like this: spinach, swiss chard, kale, beet …and, as I’ve discovered lately, even turnip and radish leaves. Carrot? I’m not so sure. I’ve yet to experiment with that.

 

IMG_5157

I’m still not sure what I cooked today but I’m told it may have been a variety of dandelion. But cooked together with the radish tops and drizzled generously with some wonderful extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with a few seeds it didn’t taste like compost at all!

 

IMG_8146

 

And local readers, check out Lareverde for their wonderful super fresh organic vegetables. You don’t only get leaves…you get a whole variety of whatever is in season.

orgaanic vegetable box

Posted in Vegetables and salads Tagged , , , , , |

Oven Roasted Winter Vegetables with Chickpeas and Harissa


roasted vegetables with harissaI heard a quote yesterday, supposedly by Picasso, saying if you don’t have green, then paint the tree red. And that was very much in my mind today while cooking lunch. Enticed by the photo, I had decided to make Ottolenghi’s roasted vegetable couscous.  The substitutions started right away when I switched parsnips for potatoes and star anise for Chinese Five Spice Powder and pumpkin for squash – although that last one is not a big deal. But it was a slightly bigger deal when I realised I didn’t even have any couscous. Not to be deterred, I carried on reinventing as I went, and the result – delicious! A keeper.

So this is a combination of about three different recipes that I have made in the past – not least Ottolenghi’s – and I do recommend you try it. The flavour from the spices is lovely.

butternut squash with garlic and onion

Oven Roasted Winter Vegetables with Chickpeas and Harissa

(serves 2-3 people as a main dish)

3-4 waxy potatoes – cut into  chunks

3-4 carrots – cut into 1″chunks

medium onion or about 5 shallots

3 cups cubed squash

I finely chopped hot red chilli (optional)

1 stick cinnamon

2 star anise or 3/4 tsp Chinese five spice powder

salt

Black pepper

olive oil

chickpeas 1/2 jar or can (or other beans if you don’t have chickpeas)

handful of raisins or chopped apricots

1/2 medium/large preserved lemon peel cut into strips

2 tbs homemade harissa  (Not shop bought – see below)

Handful of chopped cilantro leaves

Optional : Greek yoghurt to serve

Method

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200 C. Put the potatoes, carrots and onion into a baking dish. Add the spices, salt and some glugs of olive oil and mix.
  • Cook for 15 mins then add the squash. Allow to cook for another 40 mins or until the vegetables are well cooked and tinged at the edges.
  • Add the chickpeas and raisins (or apricots).
  • Cook for a further 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and stir in the harissa, the preserved lemon and half the cilantro. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro on top to serve.
  • Serve with some Greek yoghurt and extra harissa as required

This is the kind of recipe that lends itself to adaptation – it actually IS an adaptation. However, one thing I wouldn’t substitute is the harissa. The recipe here on the blog is so good. I get asked for it all the time. You can reduce its heat if you want, by adding a bit of fresh red pepper and more olive oil, but the combination of flavours is really excellent. It’s quick and easy and it keeps in the fridge.

harissa

And the preserved lemons? I can’t go on about them anymore…but everything tastes betters with the these lemons!

IMG_7532

Posted in Vegetarian Tagged , , |

Spicy chickpeas with preserved lemon

IMG_2025-2There are days when I just don’t feel like spending time in the kitchen but I need to eat something -something tasty and satisfying. On those days when there’s no time, energy and not even anything much to cook with, this spiced up chickpea dish is the one I turn to. And it doesn’t even feel like a standby but a perfect meal in its own right.

You can make this with soaked, cooked chickpeas but that requires planning and I usually make this when I haven’t given a moment’s thought to what we are going to eat and it’s late and we are hungry. I simply use a jar of ready cooked chickpeas, which I always have in in my food cupboard. Here in Spain they are very good, as chickpeas – garbanzos – are very much part of the staple diet. The Spanish way to make them is rich and hearty with chorizo and other meats but my version is vegetarian and tending to Moroccan flavours. I use preserved lemons (yes, again!) but if you don’t have any, then add lemon juice and lemon zest instead to get a mellow lemony kick. I add whatever vegetables I have and think will go well, my favourites being either fresh spinach, fennel or red pepper. My first choice is fennel.fennel

 

The nice thing about this is that there is no definitive recipe. You can improvise according to what you have on hand. However, the base is always the same.


DSCF8381

Spicy Chickpeas with Preserved Lemon

Olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

1 -2  cloves garlic crushed

1/2 medium sized preserved lemon  thinly sliced (the peel) or lemon juice and zest

salt, black pepper, thyme, chilli flakes, ground cumin, (1/2 tsp), paprika

1 jar/can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed

A couple of big handfuls of fresh spinach OR 1 fennel (sliced) OR 1 diced red pepper.

 

  • Gently sautee the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil. When it’s all soft and translucent, add the chopped preserved lemon peel. Let it all cook together for a good 5 minutes. Keep it moving.
  • If you are adding a hard vegetable like fennel or red pepper, add it now but don’t overcook. They shouldn’t be too soft. If using fennel, keep some leaves for adding at the end.
  • Season it well with some salt (not too much as the preserved lemons are already salty), black pepper, chilli flakes according to taste, thyme, a little ground cumin. Make it tasty.
  • Open your jar of chick peas, give them a good rinse, drain them well and throw them into the pot. Mix it all up and heat it through so the flavours permeate. Taste, and if needs more flavour, add a spoonful of the preserved lemon juice or more spice.
  • If you are using fresh spinach, tear it up – or chop roughly, and add it right at the very end. Cover and turn off the heat. The spinach just needs to wilt.DSCF8386

DSCF8652

I like to eat this with some natural yoghurt and fresh mint on the side (or just yogurt if you have no mint), and a freshly grated carrot salad, but you can serve it with rice to make it go further – and of course, any other salad you fancy

 

spicy chickpeas, grated carrot and yoghurt

 

Really quick and satisfying and just as delicious cold. Try it.

If you have a favourite quick ‘fall back’ recipe worth sharing, please feel free to post in the comments below.

Also, if you missed the last post for the seeded crackers, check it out. Great recipe.

 

 

 

Posted in Vegetarian Tagged |

Super seedy Crackers


Super Seedy Crackers

super seedy crackers


Super seedy, super easy and super delicious – these are thin crackers that you won’t be able to stop eating. I very recently got this recipe from my mother in law, who is a fabulous cook, and I’ve already made and, I confess eaten, 3 consecutive batches. The ingredients are all good and healthy, which is just as well as with something so dangerously moreish.

The only thing you need to be aware of is that they should be spread very thinly on the baking sheets, otherwise they come out more like oat cakes than crackers which is not necessarily a bad thing. If yours don’t come out crispy, put them back in the oven for a bit longer – even the following day as I did first time round.  Don’t worry if they get slightly brown. They should already be hard and dry when you take them out.

sesame, flax and sunflower seeds

Ingredients

1 cup spelt flour   (120 grams)

1⅓ cups  oats (120 grams)

¾ cup peeled sunflower seeds (100 grams)

½ cup sesame seeds (50 grams)

⅓ cup flax seeds (50 grams)

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsps. olive oil

Approx. 2 cups water (500 ml.), more if necessary

seed cracker mix

Method

Mix together all dry ingredients

Add the olive oil. Mix.

Stir in water gradually, till the mixture looks like soup.

Spread on baking paper on two baking trays and press down into a very thin layer. As thin as you can, basically.

Bake at 170 degrees C/ 300F  for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and mark into squares for cutting.

Return to the oven for another 45-55 minutes until dry and crisp. They may brown slightly.

seed crackers

Perfect to have on hand at this time of year. Anything you put on them, whether sweet or savoury, works. These would also make a great homemade food gift.



Posted in Sweet and baked Tagged |

Mushroom Picking – Lactarius Deliciosas

 

Sauteed milk caps

Finding wild mushrooms is always a bit hit or miss. Has it rained enough? Has it rained too much? Is it cold enough? Will other people have got there before you? We headed into the sierra after a very rainy night with our baskets and knives but no expectations. The sun was out and the air was crystal clear and the hills were bathed in a hue of intense green.

Sierra de Cadiz

DSCF8124

Within minutes of our search we found what we were looking for  – the saffron coloured Lactarius Deliciosas – otherwise known as milk caps, or in Spanish, Niscalos. With mushrooms you know that if you find one you will find more and we did. Eyes peeled for tell tale mounds of pine needles, we unearthed one after another till we had filled two baskets of solid healthy milk caps – (well, yes, a few worms here and there but best to think of it as protein.)

DSCF8137

lactarius deliciosas

For the hunters and gatherers of this world, there’s nothing like coming home with your bounty. Brimming with satisfaction, you contemplate how you are going to cook them.  We figured that as Lactarius are so firm and meaty, that simply sautéed with olive oil and coarse salt is a meal in itself and the best way to appreciate the natural flavours.  And so it was, over an open fire, with the accompaniment of a bottle of good Rioja and a sweet potato puree, we satisfied our primitive survival instincts once again.


Lactarius Deliciosas - with olive oil and coarse salt

 

DSCF8219

 

 

BTW..any great recipes you have for these would be most welcome. Add to the comments below

Posted in Food Stories Tagged |