The Big Cheese: Halloumi tacos

For me, one of the greatest food combos ever is halloumi cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. OK, fine – this may not be particularly progressive, and the more sophisticated food connoisseur might scoff at my undress (“that is so 1979”) but that’s their loss. Sun-dried tomatoes are better than real tomatoes. Squeaky cheese is better than non-squeaky cheese. The idea of putting these two simple things together seems extremely reliable.

As with all food trends, if there wasn’t something inherently good about them in the first place, then they wouldn’t have developed such a following. There were the sun-dried tomatoes of the 80s, pesto in the 90s and so it has been with halloumi of late. I can still remember discovering halloumi (a semi-hard, unripened cheese that is best served fresh off the barbecue – it has a high melting point) and now all of a sudden it’s everywhere (cough, Nandos, cough) – last year, Waitrose and Tesco reported a doubling and tripling of halloumi cheese sales.

It’s also worth £60 million a year to Cyprus, is a unifying force between carnivores and vegetarians and Turkish and Greek Cypriots alike.

More importantly though, it’s one of my favourite snacks, appetisers and additions to many popular dishes.

So, last time, I revelled in the fact that I could put this delightfully politically correct cheese IN A TACO. And there are lots of people out there who make up recipes and then blog them. This is not the objective of my food blog, but here I am, giving it a stab – I’m a book editor, not a chef – I’d be more inclined to expertly edit a recipe than invent one. As with many of my other food-related ideas and gifts, if it’s rubbish, my husband made it.

Halloumi and sun-dried tomato tacos with tzatziki and honey-balsamic dressing – adapted from my head

Ingredients

250 grams of halloumi cheese, cubed or sliced
Sundried tomatoes

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1 cup cooked quinoa
Corn taco shells (fresh, if possible)

To garnish:

Tzatziki/greek yogurt with added mint, lemon juice and chopped cucumber
Honey-balsamic dressing : 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, 80 ml olive oil

Directions

1. Prepare your tzatziki, if not using storebought, and your dressing. Set aside.

2. Brush halloumi lightly with olive oil. Sear the cheese in a pan – it should take about 2 minutes on each side, and form a golden brown crust. Resist the urge to eat immediately.

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3. Top each taco shell with 2 tbsp quinoa, 2-3 slices of halloumi (cut in half if necessary), tomatoes, and garnish.

4. CONSUME

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So there you have it – my twist on halloumi, for better or for worse. Halloumi has a really unique taste – like mozzarella but saltier – and texture – it softens, but doesn’t melt – and you can do so many things with it. It goes really well with watermelon, butternut squash, and avocado – not all together though, that’s just greedy. Fun fact: in Cyprus the average person consumes 17 pounds of halloumi every year. Outside Cyprus, the UK consumes more halloumi than any other European country (all fun facts courtesy of this BBC article). Hopefully, you are starting to see why, and will try a halloumi recipe of your very own. Chances are, it will be successful.

Most major supermarkets stock halloumi – alternatively, make it yourself. Say cheese!

 

 

This recipe will change your life

When I’m finished this blog, I think I might start a blog about tacos.

Tacos are my favourite thing ever. All I wanted for my wedding was mini tacos. Unfortunately, this was not an option at the beautiful converted barn in the Cotswolds where I got married. Instead, we had chorizo on toast, local smoked salmon, and grilled halloumi with rosemary, which was great too, because halloumi is also my favourite thing ever. I can’t even begin to imagine what a halloumi taco would taste like – in fact, I am surprised I’ve never tried it. Watch this space.

I did get to marry my best friend, and the love of my life. But there were no tacos.

Following on my last post based loosely around Korean BBQ, I thought I would share this recipe for KOREAN TACOS (with Asian coleslaw and sriracha sour cream) adapted from The Partial Ingredients, a pretty kick-ass cooking blog I discovered a while back.

I’ve eyeballed the measurements for this dish every time I’ve made it, and it’s turned out really well, albeit differently, every time.  You may not need to be super precise but all of the components to the recipe are key.

Use roughly the same amount of each ingredient for the marinade, using three times the amount of soy sauce for each other measure. If you have time to actually roast a whole chicken Korean style, do it – otherwise skin-on breast will do. What you want is for the marinade to cling to the chicken, so if you need a pinch of corn flour, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Ingredients

For the chicken:

Chicken breast
Soy sauce
Lemon juice
Brown sugar
Honey
Shaoxing wine (I got ID’d for this at Tesco)
Mirin
Garlic and ginger, minced
Sriracha sauce
Sesame oil
Sesame seeds

For the coleslaw:

Chinese cabbage, sliced
Red onion, finely chopped
Green onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
Garlic and ginger, minced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Fish sauce – 1 tbsp
Mirin – 2 tbsp
Sriracha – 2 tsp

For the sriracha sour cream:

1 cup sour cream
Sriracha – 2 tbsp

Corn taco shells – buy them fresh. You can use Old el Paso ones if you want but the authentic ones work best. I buy mine from Casa Morita in Brixton. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the cactus ones.

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Lime and coriander to garnish

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Directions

1. Prepare your marinade. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl – add chicken and set aside. The longer you leave it, the better.

2. Invite some friends over under the auspices that it is Halloween and you are going to carve some pumpkins and have a few drinks, even if really you just want to show off your tacos.

3. Combine the ingredients for the coleslaw in a large bowl, and set aside.

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4. Mix the sour cream with 1 tablespoon of sriracha – and, you guessed it, set aside. This is actually a great recipe for a night where you want to prep ahead, carve some pumpkins, and have some drinks, not necessarily in that order. I meant to write this blog post a while ago, clearly – I’m not carving pumpkins in January – not even I like Halloween that much.

5. Have some drinks – two’s good, three’s probably too much before standing over a hot grill pan.

6. Cook the chicken slowly in a hot grill pan, so that the marinade caramelises but doesn’t burn. Alternatively, roast a chicken.

Meanwhile, heat your tortillas in the oven. I trust you’ve bought them fresh.

7. The tacos taste best if the chicken is shredded, but this is a massive pain. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; serve in the corn tacos topped with the coleslaw, sour cream and a generous amount of coriander and lime.

I didn't say I knew how to photograph tacos.

I didn’t say I knew how to photograph tacos.

8. Enjoy with friends! You’re welcome.

French dessert DIY

“Wine…the intellectual part of the meal.”

-Alexandre Dumas

Some lesser known facts about French food:

1. France has a different cheese for almost every day of the year.

2. There are two new cookbooks published every day in France.

3. 72% of the French population finds it difficult to understand French wine labels.

Châteauneuf du Pape - with Papal Regalia

French food is extremely diverse, and includes a wide variety of regional cuisines. Provencal specialties include ratatouille, bouillabaisse, and pisaladiere, while in Rhone Alpes you can overindulge in fondue and raclette and in Burgundy you’re apt to find boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin at every neighbourhood bistrot. Other typical french recipes include pochouse (fish stewed in red wine), gratin dauphinoise, duck confit and croque monsieur.

English: Coq au Van 10-29-09 IMG_9331 Français...

Almost all of these dishes rely heavily on cheese, butter, booze or some awesome combination of the three. Yet, mysteriously, very few French people are fat.

I went on exchange to France when I was in high school – being from Quebec, I think my parents thought it would help me speak French better. I remember that on the first night I arrived in Arles, my host family had prepared a hog roast. Confronted with the notion that their new houseguest didn’t eat meat, I spent the next several weeks eating salads for lunch every day, most of which consisted of a single vegetable, often either shredded carrot, green beans or corn, covered in salad cream. Accompanied by a large baguette and an even larger block of cheese. Not the worst scenario in the world.

I didn’t think it would be very interesting for you to read a blog post about me eating a baguette with cheese. Nor was fine French dining in my budget – although choices are aplenty in London, from Galvin at Windows and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in Mayfair to Chez Bruce in Tooting, Mon Plaisir on Monmouth Street and Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell.

Once you’re done dinner, you’re going to want dessert – and this is where I come in. Sweet French recipes include macaroons, madeleines, chocolate souffle, tarte tatin, and creme caramel. And, drumroll please, the mighty profiterole – recipe courtesy of my friend Harriet’s mum.

Ingredients

2 oz butter

1/4 pint water

3 oz plain flour

1 egg – beaten well

1/4 pint double cream

100 g dark chocolate

Directions

1. The first step really should be to open nice bottle of French wine. Unfortunately, I was training for a charity run last week (girl’s gotta do something if she’s going to write a food blog and not get fat) so I was off the sauce.

1a. Preheat oven to gas mark 6/200 C, preparing to make your choux pastry – this is easier than it looks/sounds.

i. Cut up butter and heat in a saucepan with the water until melted. When it starts to boil, remove from heat and immediately tip in flour all at once.

ii. Beat until the mixture is smooth and comes away from the pan. This will be your arm exercise for the day. Cool slightly/pour more wine.

iii. Beat in the egg a little at a time to make a smooth, thick, glossy paste.

iv. Drop teaspoons of pastry onto a prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

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v. After ten minutes, turn the oven up to gas mark 7/ 220 C. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes until puffy and golden brown.

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2. Make your filling – this involves whipping the double cream with an electric mixer.

3. Put a slit in each profiterole and using a teaspoon, fill each one with cream – don’t be stingy.

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4. Make your chocolate sauce – either use your favourite method or, if you don’t have one, melt the chocolate in some milk with a little sugar and butter et voila.

To serve – pour warm chocolate sauce over profiteroles, and enjoy. How easy was that?

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E is for Easter egg

Friends! This recipe was simply TOO delicious and easy (ish) to not share, although some of you might be eager for me to stop being a cheapo and start going back to restaurants, the rest of you could probably care less. E is for Easter though, and not for Passover (I decided it wasn’t worth blogging my matzo ball soup earlier this week because it came out of a box – unlike my Auntee Renee, whose fluffy matzo balls were victorious in the inaugural ‘Battle of the Bubbies’ at Caplansky’s Deli last year.)

Every year I eagerly await the day where eating a Cadbury creme egg a day (keeps the doctor away?) is socially acceptable, and when corner stores stop selling last season’s stale stock. So this year, before moving on to the letter F (where if I am lucky I will become learned in the art of profiterole making) I decided I’d (attempt to) make my own as an Easter Monday treat.

Orange-infused homemade Cadbury creme eggs – inspired by Not Without Salt

Ingredients

1/2 cup golden syrup/corn syrup

3/4 stick or 6 tablespoons butter

3 cups icing sugar (powdered sugar in England)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp orange blossom water  – I used Waitrose orange natural extract

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food colouring

Two 100g bars good quality chocolate – I used Green & Black‘s sea salt milk chocolate, because I thought the salt would nicely offset the almost sickly (in a good way) sugary filling of the egg. I was right.

Directions

1. Combine butter, golden syrup, vanilla, salt and orange blossom water, if using, in a small bowl and mix until smooth. If you have a stand mixer, more power to you. I did the majority of this by hand after my trusty Phillips hand mixer caught fire and I decided to stop using it.

2. Put approximately 1/3 of the mixture in a small bowl and add food colouring – if you want to make your life easy, use orange food colouring. Little do many people know, I was actually a very successful elementary school student, so I was able to combine red and yellow, because that’s what I had in the house, and achieve the same effect.

3. Put both bowls in the freezer, covered, for at least 20 minutes but not longer than about 45. I decided to take a time out and have a Skype date with a girlfriend, and my sugar mixture was difficult to work with. That said – it is important that it be very cold, or it will get melty and sticky and just make you want to tear your hair out.

4. When both mixtures are chilled, take your yolk out of the freezer and roll into small balls – you’ll need about a third of a teaspoon for each. As above – work quickly, or stickily. Return balls to freezer.

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5. Roll whites into balls – about a tablespoon of sugar mixture for each. Return to freezer if/when the mixture gets too sticky. As above they will need to be cold and hard – but not too hard – for them to be easy to work with. I did not get this part right.

6. Place a white in the palm of your hand, gently flatten and indent, making a nice little cozy nook for your yolk. Place a yolk in the center of the white, cover (this part is tricky) and roll into an egg-like shape. Or just a ball. Return everything to the freezer and allow to harden.

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7. Melt your chocolate – if you are ambitious and know how to temper chocolate properly, do this. Otherwise, the microwave will do – add one tablespoon of vegetable oil to the melted chocolate to give yourself some leg room.

8. One at a time, remove an egg from the freezer, stick a toothpick in and roll in the melted chocolate, allowing the excess chocolate to drip off. Place the toothpick into something solid (I chose potato) while the chocolate sets – do all of this (all of this being steps 1 through 7) carefully and with patience and love. Or just love – I haven’t got much patience, and my eggs tasted great all the same.

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Hoppy Easter! Until next time.

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Gado gado!

For those of you who have been following, I went to Amsterdam a few weeks ago, and tried Indonesian food for the first time. I liked it so much that I decided to try to recreate it for your pleasure and mine, but mostly mine.

Another recipe courtesy of Yolam Ottolenghi: GADO GADO

Gado gado is a substantial Indonesian meal/salad consisting of boiled eggs, vegetables and peanut sauce.

Ingredients

For the satay sauce:

4 garlic  cloves, peeled

1 lemongrass stalk, chopped (oriental grocery stores sell these in large packs, freezes well)

2.5 tbsp sambal oelek (Indonesian crushed chili paste)

2 small pieces of galangal (ginger is a good substitute if you can’t find this)

4 shallots, peeled

80ml vegetable oil

3/4 tbsp salt

90g sugar

1/2 tbsp paprika

2 tbsp thick tamarind water – I used tamarind stock, and this worked just fine.

225 roasted unsalted peanuts – I didn’t read the unsalted bit until after I went shopping, and I did not die.

450 ml water.

200ml coconut milk – use half fat if you want to make this healthier but really, what’s the point? You’re making a salad anyway.

For the rest:

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 medium cabbage, chunked

a generous handful or two of beansprouts

100g french beans, trimmed

1/2 medium cucumber, thickly sliced

4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered. Top tip: there’s an iPhone app for egg making now, I kid you not!

100g firm tofu cut into thick slices – I fried mine lightly in sesame oil first.

cassava chips, plantain chips or something else crunchy

3 tbsp coriander leaves

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Optional: one small, disobedient black cat.

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Directions

1. Make your satay sauce – be forewarned, this takes forever, but is really really worth it. Make sure you read through this recipe before you get started, too – there’s some multitasking involved!

a) Combine the garlic, lemongrass, sambal oelek, galangal and shallots in a food processor until they form a paste. Add vegetable oil, if needed.

b) Heat up oil in a medium saucepan – add the paste, and cook gently for approximately 40 minutes or until the oil starts separating from the paste.

c) Add salt, sugar, paprika and tamarind water – cook for a further ten minutes.

d) While the paste is cooking, crush peanuts in your food processor – according to Ottolenghi they should be chunkier than ground almonds, but I’m not super sure what this means exactly – your call. Put them in water, and simmer  for 20-25 minutes or until peanuts are soft and most of the water has evaporated.

e) Add the peanuts and the remaining water to the cooked paste. Stir in the coconut milk, et voila! Taste and be amazed at your own culinary genius.

2. Boil two pots of water – add turmeric to one of them.

3. Cook the potatoes in the turmeric water until tender; drain.

4. In the other pot, blanch the cabbage for 1 minute – remove. Blanch the beansprouts for 30 seconds – remove. Blanch the beans for 4 minutes and drain – keep everything warm.

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5. Pile the vegetables, eggs, tofu and cassava/plantain chips on top of a large plate or salad  bowl. Top with the satay sauce – as much or as little as you like – you’ll probably have some leftover, good for marinating some chicken for the barbecue for tomorrow, if England will ever let me have a barbecue.

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Thanks again Ottolenghi – what an inspiration!

C is for Dumpling

As promised, I teach you to make dumplings.

Mel taught me last year when she came to visit me from Canada. We had one day together at my place in London before she headed up to see her boyfriend in Leeds; when I asked her what she wanted to do she said she wanted to drink wine and make dumplings. Done deal.

Since then they’ve been my number one party trick, followed closely by parsnip risotto with sage and mascarpone – don’t knock it ’til you try it.

You can buy dumpling skins or wonton skins at any large Chinese supermarket – you’ll find them in the frozen section.

Ingredients

Dumpling skins – 1 pack

Tofu – 300g, firm

1 carrot, grated

1 red onion, finely chopped

garlic

ginger

fresh coriander

Directions

1) Crumble the tofu into a large bowl with carrot, onion, and as much garlic, ginger and coriander as you like. Add some salt and pepper.

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2) Make yourself a little dumpling-making station! Mine involves a large chopping board and some rap music, with a small bowl of water for wetting the dumpling skins.

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3) Now here’s where things get complicated. Not really though. Take a dumpling skin off the top of the heap and place it on your work surface. Wet your fingers,  gently moisten the wrapper and then flip it over.

If, like me, you are not very delicate, then try doubling up. Wet the wrapper and then, instead of flipping it right over, place a second one directly on top – the water will seal them together. Wet the top of that one, and flip. The skins are extremely thin and break easily – I find it much easier this way.

4) Place a small spoonful of filling into the center of the wrapper. Fold the sides up and in and press to seal – the water will make sure things stick.

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5) Repeat – eight thousand times. Or until you run out of wrappers. If you’re doubling up, you should end up with approximately 25 dumplings. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t look great at first – practice makes perfect, and it all tastes the same anyway.

6) There are several ways of cooking these – the easiest is in a bamboo steamer. Boil a pot of water and set the steamer gently on top. In roughly 5-7 minutes, your dumplings will be good to go. Mind the steam when you take off the lid!

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The dumplings are great served on their own, with a peanut/satay sauce for dipping. Alternatively, they work extremely well in soup – either a clear chicken broth with a few soba noodles and pak choi, or try a simple miso. And if you’re feeling especially ambitious/gluttonous, fry ’em up. Whatever you do, they’re going to taste divine.

Bon appetit, or “祝您有个好胃口!

The latke who couldn’t stop screaming

Chanukah is one of my favourite Jewish holidays ever! AND it starts with the letter C, depending on how you look at it. Although for the most part, I am skeptical of organised religion, there’s no denying that we Jews know how to eat. Sufganiyot? Jelly-filled heaven.  Challah bread? Gimme some more. Gefilte fish? OK – maybe not.

Challah, baked

Challah, baked (Photo credit: Three Points Kitchen)

The latke is probably the best of all Jewish foods, matzo ball soup and bagels and cream cheese aside. They are so good that there is a book about them, a song:

I’m a little latke, round and flat.

Here is my front side, here is my back.

When I get all fried up here me shout.

Flip me over and take me out.

And even, as of late, a play. Disclaimer – there is probably more than one book about latkes, but The Runaway Latkes was always my favourite. Also, latkes don’t actually shout.

My mother and I used to make them every year, in a series of exercises of trial and error – sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. To the layperson, the latke is a potato pancake. To the foodie Jew – it is an art.

I made them last year using a recipe from The Daily Green, and I’ll never go back.

THE INGREDIENTS

1 pound potatoes – the recipe calls for russet, but they don’t do that here , so any good baking potato will do – peeled and grated. This is the key – however you chose to make your latkes, grate your potatoes. Never mash.

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and grated

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

Oil. Probably a lot of it.

DIRECTIONS

1) Combine all ingredients other than the oil in a large bowl.

2) Don’t drink wine with this one a) because it will probably be morning when you are making these and b) because there’s a lot of hot oil involved.

3) Heat oil in a large pan, over medium-high heat.

4) Drop 1 tablespoon of batter per latke into the pan – flatten lightly with a spatula and then reduce heat. Cook until golden brown and crispy, roughly 5 minutes per side. Rinse and repeat. (Don’t actually rinse)

5) Transfer latkes to a plate or serving dished lined with paper towel. Serve warm with sour cream or applesauce.

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L’Chaim!

Spinach daal with paneer

Another week, not another restaurant. I’m beginning to realise how hard this project is going to be! Life really gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it?

It’s not entirely true that I didn’t go to any restaurants this week – Duncan took me to Tom’s Kitchen at Somerset House for my birthday, which was lush. And we had some really wonderful food at a wedding at the Barbican on Saturday night – Barbican starts with B, so that kind of counts. The bride was Cypriot (C) and the groom was half Chinese (also C) and half Welsh (W) – otherwise known as Chelsh – so if you think about it really hard then it’s almost like I’m doing my homework in advance.

I thought I’d try another daal recipe while you’re waiting for me to get my act together.

Spinach daal with paneer – adapted from BBC Good Food‘s 101 30-minute meals.

Paneer is a type of cheese commonly used in South Asian cooking. It’s an unsalted white cheese that is most commonly served deep fried, either with peas in a creamy tomato sauce (mattar paneer) or with spinach (palak paneer). It can be purchased in most major supermarkets – I find the Savera brand paneer the easiest to cook with; I got mine at Tescos. Tescos also sells cubed, frozen paneer but I don’t think this tastes as nice. Maybe I just don’t like to make things easy on myself.

BBC Good Food thinks halloumi is a good substitute for paneer but I would probably disagree. Halloumi is salty. Mmm. Salt.

Paneer, much like halloumi, is a love/hate cheese. I love it. It tastes great marinated in tandoori sauce and grilled on the barbecue. I also love lentil, hence the below!

Ingredients:

9 oz/250 g red lentils, rinsed

t tbsp sunflower oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

knob of ginger, grated

3 tsp garam masala

1/2 can reduced fat coconut milk

200 g paneer, cubed

100 g spinach

asafoetida

chili powder

cumin

coriander

cardamom

Directions

Boil lentils for 8-10 minutes; set aside.

In a wok or pan, stir fry ginger, garlic and garam masala, and any other spices you choose for a minute or two. Add coconut milk (1/2 can is probably generous – start slow) and lentils and simmer for five minutes. Add spinach, cook until wilted and remove from heat.

At this point, taste test and add whatever other spices suit your palette. I think some tomato paste might also have been a good add. Maybe also a little bit of curry paste.

Disclaimer: If you are going to follow this recipe directly from the book/website, it might be bland. I added tons more spices/mango chutney than the original called for and I still didn’t find it had enough depth.

Somewhere in there, heat your grill and cook paneer for five minutes on each side, or until browned. I used a frying pan, because my grill doesn’t work. If you’re going to do it this way, pay attention. Nobody likes burned cheese.

Add the cooked paneer to the lentil and spinach mixture, and serve with rice or naan. I served mine with paratha, because it’s a fun word to say.

English: Aloo Paratha

The verdict: The paratha was awesome. I also bought a frozen pack of these at Tescos and put them in the frying pan and they turned into hot fluffy dough. It was like magic.  The recipe was not the best – you don’t need coconut milk to make a great daal, and I found this a little bit creamy, but hey, some people like cream! British people, for instance, put cream on everything.

Top tip: Don’t drink with this one. As much as I’d like to make Hannah Hart proud, there are too many bits and pieces to do at the same time to drunk kitchen* it and not light anything on fire.

*This is now a verb.

Stay tuned for a real project post soon – it may just feature a parrot.

I love lentil

No meals out for me this week – September is a busy month, laden with birthday celebrations, weddings, road trips, and karaoke nights out. Hence not enough time or financial resources to devote to the eating, at least not alphabetically.

The following is a list of my favourite people born in September:

Me

Sheree Gouldson

Georgia Brooks

Megan Feeney

Sarah Pearson

Emma Dougan

Sydney Freeston – who is not actually born in September, but in August, which is close, and I like her a lot too.

I can’t stop thinking about Bangladesh. I was very excited about that one, and feel a bit let down. Post-Brick Lane, I’ve done a bit more research (thank you, Wikipedia) and have come up with some thoughts about Bengali cuisine:

1) Beef. Eaten in Bangladesh, but not in the Hindu communities of India. An obvious disparity – someone should have told me this, when I asked.

2) Courses. In Bangladesh, they have them, whereas in other Asian countries food is served all at once. Traditional sequences are followed, which vary from region to region and between celebrations and day-to-day meals.

3) Dessert. Not really a focal point of an Indian meal – but in Bangladesh, sweets, or mishti,  are a critical aspect of food culture. Heather and I saw a number of sweet shops on our Shoreditch excursion – but they looked sugary enough to make our teeth fall out, so we passed. I don’t have a dentist in this country.

As in India, daal is one of the most common dishes served and is usually the most substantial course of the meal.

I love lentils. Props to anyone who got the Anchorman reference in the title of this blog post.

TWSS.

I love lamp

The things you can do with lentils are limitless. Spag bol with red lentils? Shepherd’s pie with puy? Mmm, mmm, mmm. My favourite lentils are yellow split, I think. Or moong daal. Ohhh, the choices! Even my dad likes lentils. He might not know they’re lentils, but he likes ’em.

Last night, with a hankering for South Asian food, I decided to try making my own daal, using a simple recipe from my friend Mel’s Indian-themed food blog. I wanted to use chana daal, because they are oh-so-hearty, but am on a “use-what-food-I-have-in-my-cupboard-before-my-boyfriend-feeds-it-to-the-birds” rampage, so I used red lentils instead, which Mel recommended. Channa daal takes a very long time to cook – and it was a school night.

It was easier than I thought! And definitely something I’ll do again, and again, and again.

The best thing about a daal like this is that you can really use anything you want/have lying around, and it will work.

Directions

First, check out Mel’s blog – because really, I ripped this recipe off from her.

Crush up all of your spices in a mortal and pestle – I used coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and hot curry powder – with ginger and garlic and oil.

Indians/Bangladeshis cook with ghee – much like pork lard, it tastes good. When I make a curry, I usually use a mix of oil and butter, and I feel better about myself. Not by much, but still.

Heat up the oil and/or butter  in a wok with some mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and whatever other seeds you want. Well, to a point. Really. Mel uses fennel but I didn’t have this in the house.

When they start to pop, add some onion and some chillies. Add your paste, your lentils, some water – I took a cue from Mel and used steeped black tea instead of plain water, or at least I hope it was black tea, because I don’t know much about tea…PG Tips?? – and a generous dollop of tomato paste, and melange. Bring to a boil, and simmer until soft.

I also added some asafoetida, and some mango chutney. Some being the operative word here – translated, means, well, a lot. I love chutney. It’s a whole course, in Bangladesh.

Serve with rice and naan.

Or on top of a pork chop. If you’re manly enough. (Ignore the dirty plate – this was a second helping!)

The verdict: The red lentils were perfect. I don’t know what I was worried about. Could have used salt, but otherwise a real delight. Daal, chutney, pork chop – I think I can check Bangladesh off my list now.

Or can I…

Thanks again to Mel Hadida for the excellent recipe. Bon appetit!

Argentina/This is not a circle

The Great Empanada-making Experiment

My friend Andrea tells me that the reason why Argentinian beef is so good is that all of Argentina’s cows are stolen from Brazil. No need then for a night out at Gaucho, although Duncan says his most recent steak there was stunning.

I decided that the best way to explore Argentinian cuisine was by the grace of my own kitchen, due largely to the fact that it’s the end of the pay period and I’m eight quid in the hole until Friday. And seeing as I don’t eat red meat, my friend Harriet generously offered to come over and teach me to make cheese and chicken empanadas using a traditional South American recipe. Food stuffed with other food. She gets me.

Harriet lived in Argentina for five months, and her downstairs neighbour was actually the head chef at Gaucho. This, by proxy, makes her an expert.

THE EXPERIMENT: Make empanadas. Don’t get drunk first.

THE INGREDIENTS

Flour – 2 cups

Pork lard/butter – 1/2 cup

Eggs

Paprika

Chicken breasts (2), cooked and shredded

Onion, 1 medium

Scallion

Chicken broth, 1/2 cup

Cumin

Red chili flakes

“Mozzarella type cheese”

Nutmeg

Manchego cheese

Quince jelly

Wine

Dulce de leche

Maté

Maté is a traditional Argentinian beverage/activity that is much like tea in Britain. It’s served from a shared maté gourd with a metal straw called a bombilla, which is my new favourite word, after balcony.

I believe it is an acquired taste. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the physical act of sipping the tea through a straw out of the funky little cup, the drink itself tasted kind of like, well, the  ground. A bitter version of the ground. Maybe this is appealing to some. It almost reminded me of kava in Vanuatu,  without the intoxication factor. Harriet says that on the ferry from Argentina to Uganda (I’m almost positive she means Uruguay, but you never know) there is a sign over the toilets that says:

DON’T THROW MATE DOWN THE TOILET

This implies, of course, that lots of mate goes down the toilet.

We bought one bottle of Argentinian malbec and one bottle of Chilean cabernet sauvignon to help us along. Tescos Brixton only has one Argentinian wine, and it’s ten pounds. Chile is neighbours with Argentina, so we decided this was OK.

I must admit I’d never had manchego before, although I think I thought I had. Eaten with quince jelly, it is fecking delicious. I promised myself I would swear less in the run-up to my 30th birthday and subsequent transition into adulthood, but this combi was so good that it deserves at LEAST a half swear. FECK. YUM. Queso y dulce, or manchego and quince jelly, to the layperson, is a typical and popular dessert in Argentina. I found many recipes for quince jelly online; Harriet procured ours from Phoenicia Food Hall in Kentish Town.

You may wonder how dulce de leche fits into the equation. Actually, we intended to make alfajores (caramel cookies) for dessert but ran out of time, probably because of the wine. We ate it with a spoon instead.

DIRECTIONS

1) Open wine

2) Nibble on manchego and quince

3) Make your dough: Beat one egg with salt and paprika, and add enough water to make about 1/2 cup of liquid. Combine lard (butter) and flour, stir in liquid gradually. Mix with your hands. This is the best way. Knead until smooth and elastic. Top tip – better to add more flour to dough than to be short on liquid. Let stand for at least 3 minutes before using.

4) Make your filling: For the chicken, lightly fry 1 medium onion, add scallion, 2 level tablespoons of flour and chicken broth. Add spices to taste – we used about 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cumin, and a hefty teaspoon of chili flakes, with some parsley for good measure. Cook for one minute and add shredded chicken, adding more water as needed. For the cheese, beat two egg yolks, add 1 tbsp flour and a pinch of salt. Beat egg whites until you’ve got nice little stiff peaks, blend your cheese (we used Tesco’s pizza cheese, and it worked just fine) into the yolk mixture and then add the whites, some salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Don’t actually taste it though, because it’s raw egg. Et voila.

5) Open second bottle of wine

6) Using a rolling pin, roll out golf ball-sized pieces of dough into flat circles, about ten inches across and 1/4 cm thick. This was a step I failed to master. “This is not a circle,” I declared after every attempt. Although Harriet gave me a circle-making lesson, all I could manage were flat little pieces of dough that looked a bit like England.

7) Once the dough is rolled, fill with about a tablespoon of filling, wet the edges of the dough and fold over, pressing to seal. Make pretty. Or, don’t. It will taste the same regardless.

8) Bake until cooked. I wish I had more for you, but my oven is rubbish so it’s a bit hard to gauge.

THE VERDICT: The chicken filling was super tasty and authentic, says Harriet. I had expected the cheese to be a bit more gooey, but the nutmeg was a nice touch. The dough, unfortunately, was too floury, and I’m going to chalk it up to the butter. There is a reason that people cook with lard. It tastes good.

I actually think that the empanadas were better re-heated in the microwave the next day, but this may be because the next day I was minus two half bottles of red wine and could actually taste them.

Thanks again to Harriet for being an excellent partner in crime/dine/wine. Until next time. Olé!