Travels in Cambodia – Siem Reap (part 1)

Cambodia is a wonderful country that is most definitely worth visiting, but you need to be aware that it is still trying to find its way in the world after the horrific genocide that was carried out by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime between 1976-1979 killing up to 3 million Cambodians. There is clearly a huge amount of wealth in the country, if the number of Lexus, Porche and Range Rover cars on the roads is anything to go by, but this wealth is clearly not trickling down to the average Cambodian. Corruption is evident and the coffers tourists give to see the Angkor Archaeological Park are not all going into the restoration of other ruins as this seems to be done by overseas organisation and UNESCO.

Also as there are still a huge amount of unexploded landmines around the country that will take years to uncover, so wandering off on hikes in jungles is best avoided unless you are with a guide who knows where is safe to walk.

Our trip was split into three sections:

Siem Reap – to visit many of the temples and see the floating villages on Tonle Sap – the largest fresh water late in South East Asia.

Phnom Penh – to visit the Royal Palace and temples, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the Killing Fields, the markets

Kep – in the south to relax and visit the crab market

Siem Reap

We stayed at the beautiful Heritage Suites Hotel nestled in a quiet location in Siem Reap, near Wat Polanka. Guests are often collected from the airport in one of their old classic Mercedes, very Agatha Christie don’t you think? The hotel is at the edge of town giving really easy access to the Angkor temple complex, which is around 15 minutes drive away. The day we arrived our guide arranged for us to collect our 3 day temple passes – worth doing to avoid crowds queuing to get theirs the next morning. There seems to be a wide range of places to stay in Siem Reap for all budgets. We ate at great place called ‘Chanrey Tree‘ which I would recommend and they also offer boutique accommodation which may well be worth checking out.

Angkor Wat is probably the most well known of all temples in Cambodia and whilst it is incredibly impressive there were heaps of tourists, which is a shame (although expected/pre-warned). We went mid morning and others at our hotel went before dawn  and said even then there were still huge amounts of tourists waiting for the sun to rise. So my advice is to definitely go and visit but make sure you spend time also seeing some of the others, which we found less crowded and in some cases there were only a few others wandering around the ruins. Ta Prohm and Bayon temple were our favourites. Both are featured in the “Tomb Raider” movie staring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

Ta Prohm looks as if it is almost being eaten up by either the silk-cotton, thitpok, gold apple and strangler fig trees.

Tree and brick entwine and almost hold each other up. Ta Prohm is an ancient Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university built between the 12th and 13th centuries by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII. The walls are decorated with deep bas relief of female divinities, devatas or apsaras. It’s pretty impressive.

Health and safety doesn’t really operate in Cambodia so you can scramble around as much of it as you want, just be vigilant that there aren’t any snakes hiding! You’ll certainly see bats.

At Bayon Temple (below) built at a similar time, it was the official state temple and its most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene smiling stone faces on the towers and upper terraces. Apparently there once 54 towers each with four gigantic faces so making a total of 216 faces. Now however, there are 37 stone towers in ruins.

As to who the faces are remains a debate. Many think that it is king Jayavarman VII who built the temple. He apparently created these faces as a dedication to Buddha.  Others believe it to belong to Bodhisattva (Buddhist enlightened being) of compassion known as Avalokiteśvara. As King Jayavarman identified himself with Buddha and Bodhisattva it makes sense that the faces are a combination of both.

Back in Siem Reap it is really easy to get around. All tuk tuk rides seem to cost $3 and it was a fun way to whizz around town. Siem Reap river runs through town and it was certainly easy to walk from our hotel to see some of the temples and markets.

Being on foot you often get to see Cambodians going about their daily chores up close. The one below we found rather fascinating.

We visited the Old Market, known as Psar Chaa which is a good place to pick up some kampot pepper and a host of other interesting spices. The food hall was interesting with beautiful produce on display, although the meat and fish section is probably not for the faint hearted.

It’s sells a lot of trinkets and tat but there is always the odd unique gift.  For scarfs and blankets head to ……..

As far as eating out is concerned “social enterprise eating” is very in vogue and should be supported. The restaurants provide a training for vulnerable young adults from poor rural areas, orphanages or safe shelters, which can then help them in the real world, giving them a chance to end the circle of poverty they are trapped in.

A couple to recommend (although there are many more) are:

Haven it took us about 10 minutes by tuk tuk from Heritage Suite Hotel

Marum Restaurant It is literally 2 minutes walk from Heritage Suite Hotel.

There is one street to avoid or head to, depending on your idea of a good time, called ‘Pub Street’. We did venture there one evening and had a great and very reasonable meal at Khmer Kitchen which served up all the Cambodian classics.

After a days touring you may want to rest up or visit a spa (there are so many in Siem Reap), but if you want to be entertained I can highly recommend a visit to Phare – which is Cambodias answer to Cirque de Soleil. They were really impressive and fun to watch. You can book tickets here.

The other trip we went on from Siem Reap was to the visit the floating villages on the freshwater lake (which looks rather brown!), known as  Tonle Sap.

Around 90% of those living on Tonle Sap are Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese (circa 700k) who are forced to dwell on the water in really poor conditions and with very little opportunities.  Apparently law restricts land to Cambodian citizens only, but this does not apply to the water – hence the ethnic Vietnamese populations move onto the water.  Many are living mere metres from land.

Fishing provides them with a small income, although they have to pay arbitrary taxes as they can’t prove they are in Cambodia legally. It all seems unjust and unfair and they are caught in a limbo situation.

The lake does provide food to eat, but the lack of basic sanitation is apparent and disease is rife. There were a few tourists at the part of the lake we went to, which brings some extra income for them, taking tourist on their boats out onto the lake. With little opportunity or investment one wonders how the cycle of poverty will ever end.

If you do make a trip please be sympathetic to the communities who live on the lake. Whilst I enjoyed this trip, I do have mixed feelings about the predicament they find themselves in.

My next post will be on  the capital – Phnom Penh and Kep in the south, so be sure to check back in next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home cooked Chinese Food and Hot Pot Dining on Cold Blustery Days

 

January is a month for nesting. The weather tends to be so cold and blustery, with the odd rain or snow shower, that I like to hibernate, wear thick wooly jumpers and keep warm. It’s the perfect time to cook hearty food, bake and make those chutneys, marmalades and pickles (I made a batch of my carrot and daikon pickle) that you’ve been meaning to do. I did venture out earlier this week however to try my first hot pot at a restaurant that opened last year by the same name. They have over 150 restaurants in Asia but this is their first foray on British shores. It’s at the gate of China town, near Soho, so is very easy to find. Hot pots are in many respects the Chinese version of fondu, although with fondu of course there is no broth to eat with your meat or cheese. They are a great social way to dine with family and friends as a great big pot of steaming broth is the centrepiece of the whole table. I guess they would also be a great date idea, as it’s a fun way to eat and there would always be something to talk about! From a health perspective, broths are a perfect way to strengthen your immune system, which often tends to be quite low at this time of year.

We were welcomed by friendly staff who were on hand to talk us through the menu. Now the menu can be a little daunting at first glance folks, but do not be phased by this hurdle. First you need to decide on which broth you want to go for. You can chose one or  two, the latter coming in one giant bowl with a clever partition in the middle (see photo below). We obviously went for the two option. There are 8 choices and they all sounded delicious.

They ranged from the non-spicy to the kickass spicy. We decided to opt for two non-spicy ones – the vegan “longevity mushroom broth” – made up of a host of mushrooms and cordyceps flowers. It has a high content of antioxidants, minerals and vitamin D. Our other choice was the “herbal drunken chicken”. With a name like that how could we resist? It’s made from British free-range chicken that has been cooked in a broth for 4.5 hours with a range of herbs and tonics.

Next you need to choose what to put into the broth. There are a number of platter options, as well as individual plate options, which come in half plate or full plate sizes. We chose everything in half plate, which was more than enough for two people. We went for the sea bass fillets, the spicy marinaded pork, some king prawns, winter melon, Chinese cabbage, emerald spinach noodles and some fried tofu puffs. Whilst our order was being prepared we went over the self serving sauce station (now say that quickly 4 times ;o) where you can get as creative as you wish. The floors over in this section of the restaurant where rather instragramable don’t you think?

There were so many choices that we took a couple of little plates back to the table: soy sauce, chilli sauce, peanut sauce, garlic, spring onions, chillies, sesame seeds to name a few.

This was my favourite that I ‘created’ (see photo above). The waiting staff will turn on your hob on the table and then let the stock bubble away gently for a few minutes. You then start by adding your vegetables and some of your noodles and leaving them for a very short while before fishing them out and placing them in a small bowl to then dunk in your sauce and eat. Delicious. If you order the winter melon, don’t leave them in there for too long or they will begin to disintegrate, a mistake we made.  You can take a little broth as you go to slurp away, it really does warm you to your inner core. The longer the broth cooked, the more the flavours intensified. We then added the sea bass and prawns for a couple of minutes max before dunking in the pork  (which in fact didn’t taste spicy) for around 4-5 minutes cooking.

Both broths tasted really good and distinct from one another. I would happily choose both again. If I had to choose one over the other I think the herbal drunken chicken had the edge, but it really was a hard call. We ordered the right amount and couldn’t quite finish all of the broth. My dining companion lived in Hong Kong for many years and is in fact half Chinese and she was pleasantly surprised by how delicious both broths were. A real accolade if ever there was one.  The restaurant is over two floors (and sits up to 150 apparently), although only the downstairs tends to be open in the day time, largely owing the the footfall. The clientele ranged from families, couples, friends and Chinese business man, so I think it would appeal to anyone of any age. There is also a number of Thai food options as well as the hotpots, if someone in your party would rather eat Thai. I think my children would love it and perhaps it would make an ideal lunch spot after a morning at the British Museum.

Hot Pot Restaurant, 17 Wardour Street, London W1D 6PJ 

Tel: 020 7287 8881 (open facility from noon-12.30am)

http://www.hotpotrestaurants.co.uk / @hotpotlondon_

Thank you to Hot Pot Restaurant for my complimentary lunch. All opinions are my own and I would happily return again.

Back at home I have been working on my Chinese braised oxtails, which I cooked over Christmas for the whole family and wanted to improve upon. Now don’t get put off by the word “oxtails” folks. Ok, perhaps if you are vegan or vegetarian you can stop reading from now on, but for everyone else, they taste really good but there are a few tricks you need to know about when cooking them. The secret is to cook/braise them for a long time in a low oven – 5h30 mins at 150 degrees centigrade. You need to have it so that the meat is literally falling off the bone.

 

I served it with some brown rice, cavolo nero/pea/garlic medley and some roasted butternut squash, which I had coated with some freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. It’s a complete crowd pleaser with all the family really enjoying it. I am sure it would work equally well in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one so cooked it in the oven in my trusted Le Creuset pot.

It literally cooks itself so you can get on with other things whilst it slowly cooks away. Easy cooking, albeit one that takes time.

 

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Serves 6

2 tbsp of oil

2.6 kilos oxtails, cleaned and dried

45g ginger, chopped into thin batons

12 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

10 cloves

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

240ml Shaohsing rice wine (you can pick this up in large supermarkets and small Asian grocers)

6 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp jaggery or brown sugar

700ml water

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
  2. On your hob, add oil to a large ovenproof pot and then add some of the oxtails and brown all sides before removing and placing on a plate whilst you do the next batch.
  3. In the same pan, keeping the heat low, add the ginger, garlic, cloves, bay leaves and star anise and move around the pan for about a minute before adding the soy sauce, Shaohsing, sugar and water. I do not add any salt as I feel that enough comes from the soy sauces.
  4. Add the oxtails to the pan and coat in the sauce. Add a little more water if necessary and transfer to the oven.
  5. Cook for 5hours 30 minutes, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone. Over the course of the five hours move the oxtails around a few times. If it is looking dry simply add a little more water.
  6. Once it has cooked. Allow to cool before removing the oxtails – keep all the juice – and then using your hands allow the meat to fall off the bones. When all the meat has been removed return it to the pan and then rewarm before cooking and serve with brown rice, roasted butternut squash with some ground Sichuan peppercorns and some greens. Warming food for this cold weather.

 

 

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Cambodia, VB6 and a review of “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney

Sunset in Kep, Cambodia

Happy New Year everyone. As you’ve probably gathered from my lack of posts I have been off the grid for a few weeks, which has been bliss – although I was still posting on instagram so do check out my feed if you are interested. My family decided to cheat winter for a few weeks and headed off to Cambodia to see the ancient ruins, visit the capital and then head south to laidback Kep – which was once where the Cambodian royals and wealthy would head to relax and enjoy themselves; before the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the town.

Angkor Wat Temple complex

Back in London and it has all been a bit of a shock with the cold, blistery weather and getting dark so early in the day. I reluctantly packed away my flip flops and got out my winter boots. January is a funny old month. We all start with such good intentions.

Most friends seem to be attempting a “dry January” and “veganuary” has now been thrown into the mix. Read more about it here if the term is new to you.

Sacred prays in Angkor Wat complex

I can get my head around being more vegetarian, or at least a diet which has a heavy vegetable focus, but vegan……now that involves a lot of thought and planning. Whilst I was pondering veganuary, I read about a rather interesting “diet” or let’s just say “way of life” which, in my view, seemed more attainable and realistic. There is a lot of chat about it in the media at the moment. It is called the VB6 diet. Now don’t get me wrong I do not follow diets and have never been on one, but this VB6 caught my attention.

Lotus flower arrangement in Siem Reap

The diet was given life by New York Times’ lead food writer Mark Bittman and literally means “Vegan Before 6pm”. I am increasingly convinced we all need to eat more vegetables and fruit and less meat and fish. Like Mark however, I am not going to become vegan anytime soon, but a swing of the pendulum towards more of a plant based diet is definitely attractive on many levels. I would prefer to eat meat and fish less often but the quality of what I eat to be high and ultimately know exactly where the produce has come from. By eating it less frequently does allow us to buy better quality meat and fish when we do actually buy it.

Drying out fish on the shores of Tonle Sap – the 4th largest freshwater source of fish in the world

The VB6 diet came about when Mark was told by his doctor that he was overweight, his cholesterol and blood sugar were too high and that intervention by surgery was one possible option. He discussed these findings with another doctor who suggested that becoming vegan was another way that could help him. Knowing that becoming a true vegan was out of the question he decided to adapt and become vegan throughout the day but in the evening from 6pm he could eat what he wanted. It made a lot of sense as he could be sociable in the evening with friends and eat how he always has done. He is also really realistic that sometimes he may deviates from the plan and he readily admits he has milk in his coffee in the morning, but for the most part he continues to be vegan in the day time.

A shrine in Phnom Penh

So has it worked?

Absolutely. He has lost a good amount of weight – 36 pounds then gained a little to plateau to around losing 26 pounds. The diet seems sensible and also not really very restrictive in the grand scheme of things. He talks to the Huffington Post here about the diet. Have a read, it’s really interesting. I definitely plan to pick up a copy of his book and see what he has to say in more detail. You can order it here if you are interested.

Buddhist shrine in Angkor Wat

Which brings me to a rather lovely book that was recently sent to me, called “My Vegan Travels – Comfort Food Inspired by Adventure” by Jackie Kearney. I don’t own a vegan cookery book so was not too sure on what to expect. What I discovered is a hugely informative book with recipes that actually sound and look (if the five photos below are anything to go by) delicious.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

At first glance there did seem to be quite a number of ingredients in each recipe but that has never phased me. If you are someone who likes 5 ingredients, then this book is probably not for you. For anyone who has a keen interest in cooking and a willingness to try something new then you will love it. The chapters are slit into “No Place Like Home”, “European Summers”, “Asian Comfort” and “Americana”. I obviously gravitated to the “Asian Comfort”.

I think that to become full-time vegan does involve a commitment to actually stock your pantry/cupboard/fridge very differently. Leafing though the pages I found a couple of Cambodian recipes. Again I never come across Cambodian recipes so both of them really appealed to me. I opted on one though which I think is a real January mood-pick-me-up. It’s called “Num Banh Chok” – a Cambodian yellow curry with rice noodles and I cannot tell you how AWESOME this recipe is. I gave it to my father-in-law who has been recovering from a bout of flue and he couldn’t stop saying how delicious it was. It is now firmly part of my culinary arsenal and I will be cooking it again and again hence forth. I LOVED it.

I thought that the recipe tied in so well with this post and me having just come back from beautiful Cambodia, as well as the VB6 article, which I had been mulling over.

Now a couple of things to note. I made one change –  I added fried tofu instead of banana flower. I do love banana flower but it is tricky to find, certainly if you live outside London or not near any Vietnamese grocers. I thought it wasn’t very realistic for others to find if I found it tricky. Secondly, the vegetable with holes in it is called “lotus root”. I admit lotus root is also not that easy to find. My usual Asian grocers did not have it so they sent me off to a Chinese grocers that did. So folks aim for Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Japanese grocers near you. It is not stocked in your local supermarket. You can buy it online at places like Amazon and Fresh Oriental – here. You can also buy it frozen, but fresh is best if you can locate it. Galangal is not as hard to find, but again you may need to head to your South East Asian grocer.

Once you have the ingredients the recipe is a piece of cake to make. Do try it and let me know. If this recipe is anything to go by I can’t wait to try making the other Cambodian recipe “Khmer croquettes” (photo below) very soon. Don’t they look temptingly moreish.

Photography credit above: Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small

Cambodian Yellow Curry with Rice Noodles

adapted from “My Vegan Travels” by Jackie Kearney, published by Ryland, Peters & Small

Serves 4

(1/2= half)

To make the Spice Paste

2 6cm/2 inch thumbs of fresh turmeric (or 1 1/2 tsp powdered)

1/2 tsp paprika

4 garlic cloves

5cm/2 inch thumb of ginger

5cm/2 inch thumb of galangal

4-6 dried red chillies, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes

1 small red onion

2 lemongrass stalks, ends trimmed and outer layer removed

10 kaffir lime leaves

 

To make the curry

2 tbs coconut/vegetable oil

900ml/4 cups vegetable stock or water, plus extra if needed

2-3 tbs vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce

1 tbs agave syrup or brown sugar

200g/7oz lotus root, peeled and cut into thick slices (or use cauliflower florets(

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

150g green or runner beans, trimmed

400ml/14 oz can of coconut milk

1-2 rock salt, to taste

100g/3 1/2oz Chinese leaf, roughly torn ( I used choi sum, but chard, beet leaves also works)

100g fried tofu cubes (I picked this up at Hoo Hing)

 

To serve

1 packet of thin rice thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

drizzle of chilli oil/chilli (optional)

50g/1/2 cup of roasted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)

 

  1. First place your rice noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and leave whilst you get on with making the dish.
  2. New place all the spice paste ingredients in a blender/food processor and blitz until smooth. Easy hey.
  3. In a large non stick pan/wok, heat the oil and fry the curry paste.
  4. Add the stock/water, vegan fish sauce/light soy sauce and agave nectar/brown sugar and bring to the boil then add the lotus root and squash and simmer for around 8 minutes.
  5. Then add the green/runner beans and simmer for another couple of minutes before adding the coconut milk and more stock if needed; it should be a soupy consistency.
  6. Salt to taste and bring back to the boil. Make sure the butternut squash is soft. The lotus root will not be as soft!
  7. Stir in the choi sum and then remove from the heat, allowing it to wilt completely.
  8. Drain the rice noodles from the water. They should be soft and ready to eat.
  9. Place in a bowl and ladle the curry broth on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and chilli oil if necessary.

More instalments from Cambodia next week.

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Merry Christmas and Chilli Crab Linguine

Presents are wrapped, the Christmas cake made months ago, the tree decorated and the house smelling of pine trees and Christmas baking, all cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. Maybe you have done a spot of ice skating at the Natural History museum or seen some of the glorious window displays or lights in town.

Whilst not particularly festive we did love the carnival themed lights on Carnaby Street.

and the Karl Lagerfeld tree in Claridges Hotel was so impressive and rather original being turned on its head, reminiscent of a silver stalactite. It was rather magical, whimsical with a touch of Dr Seuss.

If however you are still searching for the ‘perfect’ Christmas gift, I can highly recommend the baking courses at Bread Ahead.

 There is a huge range of courses – even a donut making course – these are their donuts above: blueberry jam, hazelnut and almond praline, velvet chocolate caramel and caramel sea salt honeycomb. My father, brother and I have all done the sourdough, which we loved and would recommend, I’d definitely go back and do another course.

Over the Christmas period there is always lots of feasting and whilst all the traditional dishes are wonderful, it is refreshing to have the odd meal which is, lighter, zingy with a touch of chilli notes. As such I wanted to show you a super easy recipe, which is more a case of compiling than actual cooking but good to feed a crowd.

I adore crab, its definitely up there amongst my favourite things to eat. Not so long ago I devoured a whole crab over the course of an hour. I got really stuck in and was determined to get every last bit of crab out of its shell. A squeeze of fresh lemon and a cold crisp white wine, simple and yet heavenly. My kind of food.

mail

Now don’t worry this recipe does NOT require you to dissect a fresh crab. Its far simpler than that.

You need to buy two 170g  tins of white crab meat, which you can do at all supermarkets (it’s in the tinned tuna section).

chilli crab linguini

When you are ready to eat, boil the water for the linguine and finely chop the garlic, chilli, parsley or coriander and remove the crab from the tin/pot. When the pasta  is cooking, heat some chilli oil in a pan and place the garlic  and chilli in first and let it sizzle for 20 seconds before adding the crab bring the heat down and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. As you bring the crab mixture off the heat squeeze the juice of one or two lemons and zest, depending on how much of a lemon kick you want to give the dish and a splash or two of olive oil along with either the parsley or coriander.

Once the linguine is cooked, drain thoroughly and immediately pour the crab mixture over the linguine. I tend to then mix it all together so that the crab is evenly spread through all the pasta.

Serve immediately and season with black pepper and rock salt and wait for the mmmmmmmm reaction. It will happen, trust me.

I have also tried this dish using chilli flakes instead of fresh chilli. Both are good, but I think the fresh chilli has the edge. I cook this dish for my children, but obviously omit the chilli and they love it.

I hope you do too.

Chilli Crab Linguine

serves 4

dried linguine (see packet for amount per person)

2 x 170g tinned white crab meat

2 large red chilli, finely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large bunch of parsley, coriander/cilantro, chopped

juice of 1 or 2 lemons

zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp of chilli oil

2 tbsp of olive oil

rock salt and black pepper

1. Finely chop the garlic and chilli and chop less finely the parsley or coriander.

2. Boil the water for the linguine and place in the pan. In a separate pan heat the chilli oil and then place the garlic and chilli in the oil for 20 seconds to sizzle away before adding the crab. Cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. As you take the crab mixture off the heat add the juice of one or two lemons, the zest and the olive oil.

4. Drain the linguine and then mix the crab mixture into the pasta thoroughly.

5. Serve and season with rock salt and black pepper

Enjoy.

Right I am going to check out now for a few weeks but I will be back on form in the New Year with some interesting posts and recipes from where I am heading. Follow my instagram @chilliandmint to find out more. Have a wonderful Christmas one and all and thank you so much for continuing to follow me on my blogging journey.


Mini Post – 24 hour Guide to Christmas Past in London

For the Christmas season I have written a short – 24 hour (or possibly 48 hours if you don’t want to overindulge too much in one day) guide to Christmas Past in London for the virtual food journalism magazine ‘Binge’

Photograph by Addie Chinn

It is suited for all ages and one thing it will guarantee is that by the end of the day you will be feeling very festive. All the places I have chosen for the guide can be done on foot as they are in walking distance from one another, albeit over a mile or so. It concentrates on the areas of Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Spitalfields, with its cobbled streets and ghosts of Christmas past. One of the events I mention is taking place THIS Friday and the good news is that it is totally free to attend. Indeed a couple of the suggestions I have made are free, which is always a bonus. The guide costs £3 and you can sign up here. 

If you do decide to purchase a guide I would love to hear what you end up doing, so either leave a message below or you can leave a comment on my instagram page @chilliandmint

I have a lovely recipe for you which I plan to post in the next few days, so will be back soon.

Merry Christmas

 

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Indian Chana Dal – Sweet and Salty

As some of you may know I am a BIG dal fan. Huge in fact, I love the stuff, and I am always trying to convert the uninitiated. Dal is an Indian lentil soup, or porridge of sorts, that can vary in consistency depending on personal preference. There are so many varieties, using a wide range of lentils, that there is at least one to appeal to every palate. For the most part (some need soaking) they are quick and very easy to make. Once you have bought a few staple ingredients for your pantry, you will find that cooking dal is a very economical meal to cook and, for many in the Indian subcontinent, an essential source of inexpensive protein.

Chana dal, also known as cholar or yellow split lentil, is one of my personal favourites. It is absolutely delicious with delicate sweet undertones coming from the coconut and sultanas. I use desiccated coconut, however in India as coconuts are more readily available, they often use shavings of freshly fried coconut. I eat it for lunch or dinner, although out in India it is even served up for breakfast!

Unlike the red split lentil dal, which I spoke about in an earlier blog, you need to think a little ahead for this dal as the yellow split lentils need to soak for a number of hours. I always soak them over night, but if you check on the packet you will probably find that you can soak them in the morning and they will be ready to cook by the afternoon/evening.

Chana Dal

Serves 4-6

300g of chana dal, soak overnight

1 tbsp of oil

1 tsp panch phoron

3 bay leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chilli powder (more if you prefer it hot)

sultanas, handful

1 tsp of ghee/butter (optional)

1 tsp of sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp of desiccated coconut

  1. Before cooking soak the lentils overnight ideally or at least for a few hours.
  2. After soaking, remove the water and refresh with more water. Boil on a low heat, until soft, approx. 20 mins (45mins + if not soaked). You will know they are soft when you are able to squeeze them easily between your fore finger and thumb. If they are still a little hard, leave them to boil for longer.
  3. In a new pan heat a tablespoon of oil on a low heat. Add the panch phoron, bay leaves, turmeric, chilli powder, sultanas, salt and sugar.
  4. Move around the pan for 20 seconds max, so that it does not burn, and add a couple of spoonfuls of chana dal and stir into the pan. Then transfer all of the contents of the pan into the original pan. Add more salt if necessary.
  5. Add the ghee/butter if using. Sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the top of the dal and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Other additions to this dal is to add fresh green or dried red chillies instead of curry powder. If you have fresh coconut to hand then thinly slice it into pieces (no more than a handful) and bronze initially in a little ghee, remove and place to one side. Scatter on top at the end instead of the desiccated coconut.

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Gul and Sepoy, Spitalfields

Have you been to Gunpowder or Madame D’s (which I reviewed for Binge) yet? No I hear you cry. Then ladies and gents, seriously, you have got to get your skates on and head over to Spitalfields in East London and give them both a try. They’ve both received the highly acclaimed accolade of ‘bib gourmand’ (bg’s are given to restaurants which offer both excellent food and good value for money, but do not have to offer the same level of service and pomp that those winning a star would have to).

Gunpowder focuses on home style Indian food, whilst Madame D’s focus is Himalayan, or rather ‘Hakka Chinese’, food. However the really exciting news and the purpose of this post, is that the husband and wife team, Harneet and Devina Baweja, along with Gunpowder head chef, Nirmal Save, have just launched their third restaurant in under two years. Impressive hey! Gul and Sepoy is a stones throw away from their other two restaurants based on Commercial Street, just along from Som Saa.

I went with an open mind and an empty belly, but secretly I was thinking, can they have nailed a third fabulous restaurant? The answer came after my first mouthful, an absolute high five, whoop whoop, YES. I spent the meal grinning ear to ear on the combinations of flavours and dishes that were presented to us. We went for the tasting menu – £25 per person, to be shared. The menu concentrates on cuisine from both south west Indian and north west India. The ‘gul’ part is inspired by the King of Punjab’s most famous courtesan and her love of cooking. This food focuses on rich, sumptuous dishes. The ‘sepoy’ (which means soldier) menu draws from the more rustic, coastal style cooking of the south west.

It was the bream and the ‘royal guchi (morels) pulao that defeated my companion and I. We had to save a little room after all for some ‘wild berries and lavender kheer’ to sweeten our palates.  The staff kindly wrapped our leftovers into doggie bags that we could take home.

The restaurant is stylish and yet understated, with an eye catching navy exterior, gold writing type face (important details that I notice) and plum door with lots of foliage. It looks inviting and sets the tone perfectly. As you enter there is a large oak bar, offering some temptingly delicious sounding cocktails as well as a wider-ranging wine list than the other two restaurants. Upstairs, which I didn’t venture, apparently has ‘marble feasting tables providing a touch of luxury and a nod to north India’s ancient royal palaces’. It’s priced slightly more expensive than Gunpowder and Madame D, but not eye-wateringly. I went for a mid-week lunch and it was fairly quiet, but I imagine evenings will be busier and it won’t be long until lunchtimes will follow suit. It’s perfect for a lunch or dinner to be enjoyed at leisure and not hurried. The neighbouring table of 8 gentleman were clearly having a leisured client lunch, so it works for pleasure or work.

The final piece of good news I want to share with you is that in spring 2018 they will be launching their fourth restaurant south of the river at the new development ‘One Tower Bridge’. ‘Gunpowder Market Market’, will focus on Harneet and Devina Baweja’s heritage by serving up homestyle Calcutta cuisine. I know a fair amount about Calcutta cuisine, (my other half is originally from Calcutta) so I am very excited to see what they come up with. Apparently there will also be a bakery, which will turn into a wine bar in evening. I’ll report back once their new venture launches.

In the mean time go seek out their latest venture, Gul and Sepoy. All three restaurants rock and you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t take chilli then perhaps steer clear of Madame D, but it’s not crazy scotch bonnet hot, more like you know your alive kind of hot, if you know what I mean.

 

Gul and Sepoy 

65 Commercial Street, London, E1 6BD

Lunch: Tuesday -Saturday: 12.oo-2.45pm

Dinner: Monday -Saturday: 5.30-10.30pm

+44 207 247 1407

 

 

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Indian Stuffed Paratha – easier than you think

The are sooooo many varieties of Indian flat breads to choose from that making the decision on which one to prepare, and eat, can be a tricky business. Paratha are easier to make than you would think. A dough like pancake all warm and pillowy, filled with whatever savoury filling you choose. If you are familiar with the ubiquitous chapati then paratha are considered a close relative. My recipe shows you how to make them with a spiced potato and spring onion filling but you can be as adventurous as you fancy. They are ever so delicious and work really well with just a simple dal. Often the most humblest of foods can be fit for a king or queen. The preparation is pretty minimal and if you are cooking for a few you can prepare the filling earlier on in the day.

So follow these simple steps to create your very own paratha at home.

I suggest making the filling first and then let it cool whilst you make the dough.

Roll out the dough so that it is thin, but not so thin that it splits. Place a round ball of the filling in your hand and then gently place it in the centre of the dough circle. Flatten slightly.

Pull up the edges so that the filling is completely covered.

Turn it over and place some sesame seeds or nigella seeds on top. Flatten it with your hand.

Then gently roll out the dough so that it flattens further. Be careful not to roll too thinly or the contents will escape.

Heat a tawa, or large frying pan, and when it is hot brush a little melted ghee (or butter/oil) on one side of the paratha and place that side into the pan. While this side is toasting, place melted ghee on the other side and then after a minute turn over. Leave for a further 30-60 seconds so that it is nicely bronzing but not burning and then remove from the pan and eat whilst still hot. If you are preparing a few then place in a warm oven while you prepare the next.

 

Stuffed Paratha

Serves 6

125g plain flour

125g chapati flour/wholemeal flour (you can just use plain flour in which case double up on plain)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp yoghurt

1 tbsp oil

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

60 ml water

filling

350g potatoes, approx 3 medium ones (equally you can use sweet potato)

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped

1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 tsp dry mango powder

1/2 tsp ground garam masala

1 green chilli, finely sliced (optional)

sesame/nigella seeds, to garnish

2 tbsp melted ghee/butter/oil

  1. In a large bowl add all of the dry ingredients and mix well, then add the yoghurt and oil.
  2. Slowly add in the water so that a dough forms. Use your hands to form a ball, knead for around 7 minutes so that the dough is pliable and soft. Cover with cling film whilst you make the filling.
  3. To make the filling, boil the potatoes and when soft, drain and mash them.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Returning to the dough, break them into 6 even balls. Using your hands initially flatten a ball, sprinkle with a little flour and using a rolling pin roll into 6-7inch diameter circles.
  6. Using your hands scoop up some of the mashed spiced potato and create a small ball and flatten this is the middle of the dough.
  7. Move the sides of the dough up to the centre so that the spiced potato is securely covered up.
  8. Turn over the round parcel and spoon some sesame seeds on the top and then gently roll out the dough with the spiced potato filling into a round circle once again.
  9. Heat up a frying pan or tawa. When it is getting hot, melt the ghee and then brush some onto the surface of the paratha and place ghee side down onto the pan.
  10. Leave for up to a minute and brush the paratha again with ghee before turning over for a further minute. When the paratha is sufficiently bronzed place onto a warm plate and cover whilst you do the rest or pop in a warm oven.

Paratha are wonderful to have with dal or a curry or if you are really organised, for breakfast, now isn’t that worth getting up for.

 


Homemade Donuts

It’s been a whirlwind of half term activities these past couple of weeks and it has only been today that all of mine have returned to school. So apologies that my blog posting has been rather tardy. I thought it would be fun however to show you one of the activities we all got involved in over half term. A rainy day a while back we all made bagels – see here  so this time I thought donuts would be equally satisfying to make.

There is something about making your own that makes them so much more satisfying that store bought. The icing could certainly have been prettier – I think we probably iced when they were still a little warm – but I think the homemade/rustic look gives them an appealing edge don’t you think?

This recipe made us around 16 or so, but it kind of depends on how large your cutter is. They are irresistible light and fluffy to eat and the perfect teatime extravagance .

donuts

300ml whole milk

7g instant quick rise yeast

2 eggs

115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

50g granulated sugar

pinch of salt

540g bread flour

sunflower oil (for frying)

glaze

icing sugar

milk

salt

sprinkles of your choosing

  1. Warm the milk in a pan and then place in a bowl along with the yeast and give a stir. Leave to rest for 15 minutes, by which time foam should have formed on the top.
  2. Either by hand or using a hand whisk beat together the eggs, butter, yeast/milk mixture, sugar and salt.
  3. Add the flour little by little until it has all been absorbed into the mixture. Cover and leave to rest in a warm room for an hour so that the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Sprinkle flour over a clean surface and turn out the risen dough. Gently roll it out to around 1/2 inch thickness and using a round cutter (3 inch diameter works well), cut out the circles and using a smaller cutter make the central hole. Place each donut onto a square of baking parchment. Once they have all been cut out cover again for a further 40 minutes to allow them to rise.
  5. Heat the oil in a deep pan and when it is hot – test by dropping in a little dough crumb and if it fizzles and rises to the top it is ready – then place 3 or 4 in a pan at once. Leave for around 45 seconds and then turn and leave for a further 30 seconds or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a cooling rack with paper towels. Repeat until they have all been prepared.

When the donuts have cooled you need to make the glazes.

  1. In a large bowl add icing sugar, a little milk and a pinch of salt. Add the milk gradually so that you get the right consistency. If you want a specific colour icing sugar add the colouring at this stage.
  2. On a side plate get your sprinkles ready.
  3. Gently dip one side of the donut in the icing glaze followed by the sprinkles and return to the cooling rack. Repeat.
  4. Eat immediately – although they do still taste good the following day, they taste the best on the day of preparation.

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Spinach Soup with Lemon and Garlic Crumbs – Book Review of ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’ by Jo Pratt

A really lovely looking cookbook landed on my door step recently. The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt is a beautiful compilation of recipes to inspire us all along vegetarian lines whether you want a purely vegetarian meal or perhaps you want to adapt it to be more meat/fish friendly.

The cover is simple and effective with a handprinted aubergine on the front. Pretty adorable don’t you agree? ‘Flexible’, because it will appeal to everyone whether you eat meat and fish or not.  Whilst all the recipes are vegetarian there is a section at the bottom of the recipe giving you an alternative to include meat/fish.  For example, one recipe that jumped out of the page at me was the ‘fennel, pumpkin and green olive tagine’ – I mean how delicious does that sound? If you follow the ‘flexible’ option then she tells you what to do to make it a chicken tagine. So simple and yet rather effective. There are some really lovely sounding recipes ‘aromatic tea-smoked mushroom ramen’, ‘courgette fritti with goat’s cheese and truffle honey’, ‘aubergine and green been laksa’, ‘Turkish pie with spinach and aubergine’ to name a few. The recipes all look very easy to follow and are perfect for lunches or dinners.

Photography by Susan Bell from The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt, published by Frances Lincoln
Photography by Susan Bell from The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt, published by Frances Lincoln

I was craving greens so was drawn to the spinach soup. I am big fan of all green vegetables and when I initially saw it it reminded me of my Forentine Lemongrass  Soup that I put up on my blog when I started it over 6 year ago (excuse the dodgy photos back then) and my wild garlic, courgette and lemon soup with poached egg and crispy panko breadcrumbs I think the similarities probably start and end with the same colour. Anyway Jo’s spinach soup looked a perfect way to give my body a good dose of healthiness in one sitting. I like the fact that the crumb combined parmesan, crispy breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon zest – a bit of zing, salt and crunch rolled into one. YUM.

It took minutes to whizz together and provided a most satisfying lunch, but would  work equally well as a starter. Her ‘flexible’ option was to combine anchovy fillets to the crumb, giving the soup a more salty depth.

 

Spinach Soup with Lemon and Garlic Crumbs (By Jo Pratt from ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’

Serves 6-8

40g butter

1 leek sliced

1 bunch of spring onions (scallions), chopped

1 stick celery, finely sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and sliced

1 bay leaf

1 litre vegetable stock

500g fresh spinach leaves

flaked sea salt and freshly group black pepper

to serve

1 tsp of  creme fraiche per serving, optional

 

For the crumbs

2 dry/stale piece white bread, whizzed in a food processor to create crumbs

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

olive oil

25g finely grated parmesan cheese

 

  1. Heat the butter in a pan and gently sauté the leek, spring onion, celery, potato and bay leaf for a few minutes and then place a lid on the pan to allow to sweat and soften  for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan.
  2. Pour in the stock and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes so that the potato has softened.
  3. Remove the bay leaf and then add the spinach and gently stir.
  4. Using a hand blender blitz until smooth and vivid green. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
  5. In a frying pan add a glug of oil and then fry the crumbs so that they crisp slightly. Remove from the pan and mix with the lemon zest, parmesan and a little salt and pepper if required.
  6. Serve the soup in bowls with a scattering of crispy crumb mix and a dollop of creme fraiche if using.

The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt you can order here. It is published by Frances Lincoln.

 

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