Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli – The Brother Hubbard Cookbook

 

Last weekend I jetted over to Ireland to visit the Ballymaloe Food and Drink Literary Festival, which was a whirlwind of eating, talks, demonstrations, foraging forays (now just try to say that quickly!), and talking to A LOT of other kindred spirits who are all passionate about food in some capacity.

One talk I booked myself into was given by Garrett and James who set up ‘The Brother Hubbard’ cafe x2 in Dublin. I’ll be honest with you – I’d never heard of it or them, but I always like to hear how people start their journey into food, so thought it would be interesting to attend. I also rather liked the title of the book. It sounded intriguing.

Their one hour talk was utterly engaging and I loved the way that they embarked on some serious world travels – after the 3 month intensive course at Ballymaloe Cookery School –  in order to gain first hand food and cusine knowledge and experience, even spending time in Syria (prior to the troubles today). After a spell in Australia working in cafes to gain yet more experience they returned home to Dublin to open up their very own cafe, with a leaning on Levantine and Southern Mediterranean cuisine. It takes a brave person to give up their nice, ‘safe’ careers with pensions and all the perks to follow their passion.

It has clearly all paid off as 5 years later they have 2 cafes, one of which is about to expand threefold and 65 staff. I did not go into their talk thinking that I would necessarily buy their cookbook as I have so many, but after hearing their story and talking to them over the weekend, I thought I would be crazy not to purchase it as it is packed full of fabulous sounding recipes, using a myriad of herbs and spices. Clearly a no-brainer for me.

I also love the fact that the photos and pages are matt finish, that they have 4 yellow ribbon bookmarks – how cool is that. Publishers seriously think about doing this in other cookbooks as it is so handy to have more than one. It doesn’t have loads of photos, but the narrative is engaging that for once I don’t mind so much that there is not a photo with almost every recipe.

It’s been so hot this week – blissfully hot – that eating outside with a glass of rose has been a must. Before you ask why on earth am I showing you a soup recipe in the sweltering heat, let me just say that hot soup and drinks actually cools you down in the heat. In India I am always having a hot soup even in the heat. Give this recipe a whirl as it is a real keeper. You can also purchase the book online and at all good bookshops.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Ginger and Chilli

Recipe from ‘The Brother Hubbard Cookbook’

Serves 4 (as a substantial lunch)

1kg butternut squash, skin kept on, scoop out the seeds and dice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp olive oil

250g onions (2-3), diced

250g celery, diced

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped

30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 kg boiling water

1x400ml tin of coconut milk

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1-2 limes, juice only

fresh coriander to serve

toasted coconut flakes to serve

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Place the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. Add the oil and then sprinkle with cumin and coriander powder. Mix in well with your hands. Turn out onto a baking tray.
  2. Roast the butternut squash for 25 minutes. You want them to be soft but not very brown as it will discolour the soup.
  3. If serving with coconut flakes, use a frying pan to bronze them for a few minutes. You need to move them around constantly and do not add any oil. Place to one side.
  4. Meanwhile in a large pan add the olive oil and sweat the onions, celery and garlic. To do this simply cut a piece of baking paper and place directly over the vegetables. It does not need to be neat or perfect fitting. Place the lid on the pan. Every 5 minutes, stir the vegetables and then replace the baking paper. After 10 minutes, add the chilli and ginger and continue to sweat the vegetables for a further 5 minutes. Make sure that the ginger and chilli do not brown on the bottom.
  5. Now add the squash, which is now soft and add the boiling water, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat for 10 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender blend all the ingredients until super smooth. Adjust the seasoning and add the lime juice.
  7. Before serving add the fresh coriander and toasted coconut flakes. If you fancy you could also add a slice of red chilli.

 

 


Sri Lanka’s Tea Gardens, the Coast and Beetroot Curry

This is quite a long post so boil yourself some water and make yourself a cup of tea. Sitting comfortably……..then let’s begin.

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a stay in the tea gardens. The cooling climate, the rich green tea plantations and the slower pace of life is very appealing, especially after spending time in the hot dry lands of the cultural triangle. I loved the experience of staying in them when I visited Kerala so made sure they were included in our Sri Lanka itinerary. Many travellers head to Nuwara Eliya often referred by the Sri Lankan tourist industry as ‘Little England’, a nod to the British summer time retreat in the 1800, but instead we opted to stay in a few valleys away, near to a small town called Hatton. There is a train station in Hatton and if I were to revist I would take the slow steam train from Kandy to Hatton to admire the scenery and avoid the hairpin bends, which make even the most hardened traveller feel car sick. Tickets need to be bought in advance so think about this as an option even if you have a driver.

We stayed a night in Mandira Dickoya and a night in Mandira Strathdon both old colonial ‘planters’ cottages who managed the tea estates. Mandira Strathdon is best for those travelling with a family as there are adjoining rooms. On arrival you are transported to another era where the pace of life was slow and charmed.  The food at these boutique hotels is homely and authentic – check out these delicious bowls of curry that we had for supper.

Breakfast involved a freshly squeezed juice and some beautifully presented fruit – papaya with fresh lime being my favourite.

This was followed by buffalo milk curd and coconut treacle – I*N*C*R*E*D*I*B*L*E. Don’t be fooled into thinking it looks plain and tasteless. You’ll become addicted I promise you.

This was then invariable followed by the ubiquities rice hoppers with dal, chilli and pickle, sometimes with an egg in the middle. Tasty and certainly very filling.

 

 

 

In order to walk off breakfast, a guide showed us around the neighbourhood and the numerous tea plantations so that we could learn more about the tea, flora, fauna and general wildlife. Can I recommend that if you do this you wear long trousers and socks that pull up. My husband decided to take a stroll in shorts and ended up with the inevitable leeches, which caused his ankle to bleed for the proceeding three hours.

 

 

We met with some of the tea-pluckers, many of whom are the older women. The fear is that by the next generation there will be no one left to actually pick the leaves as the younger generation are not wanting to take on such hard labour. The tea plantations will revert to the forests that they once were before the arrival of the British, Dutch and Portuguese. To give you an idea of a ‘day-in-a-life’ of a tea plucker we learn’t that they rise before 6.30am and report to the factory where they are allocated an area to pluck tea leaves. They must pluck 18kg a day to get paid. For their labours they will receive the equivalant of £7 a day. As part of the job they will receive lodgings until their retirement.

A derelict tea factory stood alongside a hindu temple and tea pluckers cottages were painted in vibrant colours,  some with beautiful flower garlands adorning the porch area.

There was even the most beautiful Christian church that was still well maintained and cared for, with graves from British planters who called this corner of the world home; the views from the church were magnificent.

We visited Norwood tea factory and got to see the full cycle of a tea leaf, leaving with an enhanced respect for both the tea pluckers and the process involved to create the tea that is drunk the world over. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. 

On our return to our lodgings we chanced upon a rather fascinating festival where crowds of people had gathered. As the traffic was brought to a standstill we decided to get out on foot to take a closer look. From afar we could see young men tied to large bamboo poles that were leavered up into the air and then attached to small lorries. There was a lot of colour and noise and it looked intriguing if not a little surreal. The mind boggled as to what on earth they were actually doing. On closer inspection what appeared to be a rather jolly occasion looked, to the Western spectator (there was only us), to be dreadfully painful.

We discovered that the young men were actually tied up to the poles with small cleaver hooks going through their skin. Bizarrely it was our youngest daughter who first spotted this, who inquired whether we thought it would hurt. Bewildered and fascinated in equally measure, back at our hotel I discovered that the festival was called – Thirunaal, which coincides with the full moon around the 13/14th April and practiced by Tamil Hindus. I discovered that Sri Lanka is not the only country which practices such extreme religious devotion, it is also hugely popular in Indonesia and am sure it also takes place in India as well. The belief is that ones devotion to the hindu gods will free the body from pain incurred from the hooks. Being part of this festival the young men fulfil their vows to hindu gods.

Throughout the night, drums were heard and the festival continued as the full moon shone. It was certainly interesting to stumble upon, but felt a world away from Western civilisation.

The following day we headed for the coast, using the super highway from Columbo to Galle – 100km which takes no time at all owing to the fact that it was tolled and hence no one used it other than tourists, not even the sacred cows! As much as I love the hill stations and mountains I adore being near the sea – smelling the salty air, the sound of the waves and the palm trees gently blowing in the wind. We stayed in a small boutique hotel called Apa Villa, which is owned by Hans Hoefer – the photographer, designer and founder of Insight Guides.

It overlooks the sea, but due to the reef it is impossible to swim safely here. We didn’t mind as we had a beautiful pool to do some laps.

It was whilst staying here that we spent half a day with the kitchen staff at Hans’s other residence Apa Villa Illuketia a few kilometres inland, and which you can also stay in. This was the estate that Hans originally bought before buying his property on the coast. It has plenty of old world charm and we spent a peaceful morning with the staff, before sitting down to the lunch that we had watched being prepared.

Galle is definitely worth a visit, which was 15-20 minutes up the road from Apa Villas. This Dutch built fort town is walkable, absolutely charming and filled with fascinating shops, museum and churches.

It feels very European – well Dutch to be precise – once you get within the city walls.

We loved this great retro poster shop and thought this poster was rather apt.

We couldn’t resist a London priced cocktail at the Aman Galle Hotel occupying an elegant, 17th-century Colonial-style building to watch the world go by.

The beetroot recipe below was one that I was taught during the morning at Illuketia and works as a great accompanying dish with other fish/meat/vegetable curries or a simple dal.

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

2 tbsp rapeseed/coconut oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

10 fresh curry leaves

1 pandan leaf, cut into 4 strips

1/2 tomato, roughly chopped

1/4 tsp Sri Lankan chilli powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 medium sized beetroot, peeled and chopped into batons

1/2 tomato, roughly chopped

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

25ml water

200ml coconut milk

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add onion, garlic, curry leaves, pandan leaf and tomato and allow to soften for a 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chilli powder, salt, garam masala and turmeric and stir into the other ingredients.
  3. After a further five minutes add the beetroot and to help soften it add the water and coconut milk. Simmer gently for around 20 minutes so that the beetroot has softened and the liquid reduced slightly.

 


Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and Sri Lankan Dal

Sri Lanka’s temperature can change dramatically depending where you are in the country. The cultural triangle is in the interior dry lands, also known as the northern plains (and traditionally known as Rajarata, or “The King’s Land”). Earthy scrub mingles with dense jungle and this is in turn is punctuated by  small mountainous boulders – such as Sigiriya (below) and Pidurangala.

We climbed the less touristy Pidurangala, which is a few feet shorter than Sigiriya and far less crowded, we probably saw no more than 15 people there and back. It offered us the same views, at a fraction of the cost apparently, and a good view of Sigiriya itself. It does not have the same ruins that Sigiriya has at the top,  although it does have it’s own temple and buddha, but if it is the view you are after then you have the same experience on either rock.  I will say however that the final part of the climb is precarious – a case of heaving yourself up onto a giant boulder – so makes it tricky for children or those not sure on their feet!

For three days we did some serious cultural touring in the heat, travelling a good distance on some days. The main sites that draw locals and tourists alike are the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and to a lesser extent on Pidurangala and Daumbulla cave temple (below).

However for those keen on wildlife, Minneriya National Park is also within the cultural triangle and an absolute must. The park forms part of the elephant corridor, allowing elephants to migrate between the protected areas of Kaudulla National Park in the north and Wasgomuwa National Park in the south. Hiring a jeep we spent a few hours in the park viewing all the wildlife (over 200 elephants) as well as wild buffaloes, land monitors, a vast array of birds and even a crocodile. There were a number of other jeeps with other tourists, so it did feel a little bit like feeding time at the zoo, but that said I would recommend a few hours scoping out the place.

The largest site to see is Anuradhapura, which was founded in the 4th century BC and was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest centres of religious and political power. The ancient city is sprawling with numerous temples, massive dagobas – which are the Sinhalese name for the Buddhist stupa, a mound-like structure with relics, used by Buddhist monks to meditate (see below).

You can also see remains of ancient palaces, pools and auspicious trees.

Local pilgrims far out numbered tourists and with the heat blazing down my one piece of advice is take a pair of socks to slip on when you visit the temples and dagobas. You have to remove your shoes and the stone is scorching hot. I learned the hard way on the first day.

Outside all the temples there are flower and incense sellers selling stunning purple lotus flowers to passing pilgrims, which in turn buy them in order to offer them to buddha within the temples.

Stone elephants stand proudly guarding the boundaries to the temple complexes.

Polonnaruwa is not as sprawling as Anuradhapura and less busy, but offers the traveller as rich an experience. During the 12th century the kingdom went through a golden age where monasteries and  temples where built on a massive scale. The prosperity was not to last and by 1293 the city was abandoned and the jungle quickly consumed it. It wasn’t until the 20th century that excavation and restoration began and in 1982 it was a declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our driver kindly drove us from ruin to ruin, but if you are feeling up to it you can also hire bikes, which looked a fun, albeit hot, way to move around the city.

With all this touring we parked ourselves at the Water Gardens Sigiriya (a few hours away from these ancient kingdoms) which had a rather impressive view upon arrival.

It opened at the end of last year (2016) and offers incredibly spacious rooms (I think a villa would be more apt), with plunge pools in some. Although when you have the main pool like this –

then your plunge pool becomes pretty redundant. The hotel is beautiful and has been thoughtfully created in the natural habitat. Peacocks roam around the grounds – apparently eating up the snakes (Sri Lankan has more venomous snakes than any other country), although they have a cry similar to a young child, which is a little disarming to begin with but after a while you don’t even notice it. Golf buggies are on hand to  ferry guests from their rooms to the restaurant, bar or pool.

The restaurant had both Western and Sri Lankan fare, although I personally wish they had had more of the latter and less of the former. Eating Western lamb shanks in Sri Lanka just isn’t my thang! The Sri Lankan food was very good, but after three days I was craving more variety.   We were on half board and the menu for supper included starters, soups, then the main event – the Sri Lankan food, followed by dessert. The starters and soup were more Western in flavour and to be honest I would have preferred more continuity of Sri Lankan food throughout…….but maybe that’s just me.

This week I wanted to show you how to cook a delicious dal I was fed on numerous occasions in Sri Lanka. It is very different from my Bengali dal but equally as moreish.

Sri Lankan Dal

Serves 4-6 if served with other dishes

300g red split lentil dal

1 red onion, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 pandan leaves *

10 fresh curry leaves **

1/2 large tomato, diced

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 heaped tsp Sri Lankan curry powder ***

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 fresh green chilli, sliced in two

400ml coconut milk

400ml water

1. Wash the red split lentils and then place all the ingredients on top along with the coconut milk and water.

2. Simmer gently for 15 -20 minutes. Check to taste the salt levels are correct and add a little more water as required.

In Sri Lanka two varieties of coconut milk were added and no water. First they added the less thick variety and then only at the end, on a low simmer, did they add the thicker coconut milk. 

*pandan leaves – you can pick these up from your local Asian or Sri Lankan grocers or equally you can order on line here.

*** fresh curry leaves you can pick up easily at Asian grocers or online.

***There are two types of curry powder in Sri Lanka – roasted which is redder in colour and unroasted, which is browner in colour. You need to use the unroasted in this dal. I bought back both varieties from my trip but if you want to make your own simply unroasted then blend 2 tbsp coriander seeds with 1 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp of fennel seeds. Very easy.

If you want to make the roasted curry powder: Warm a frying pan and then add 2 tbsp of coriander seeds, followed by 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 5 cloves, 5 cardamom pods (seeds only), 6 dried chillies, 3 stalks of fresh curry leaves, 1 tbsp cumin seeds and 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds. Move around the pan continuously for 5 minutes so that they do not burn and then place in a spice grinder.


Arriving: Sri Lanka and Tuna Curry

I feel as if I have seen and eaten A LOT since I last wrote a post. For those who follow me on instagram  you’ll know that I’ve been galavanting around Sri Lanka with my family trying to experience as much as humanly possible in 12 days. Sitting on a beach for two weeks, just isn’t our thing.  We packed in a lot and as such feel as if we have been away for a lot longer. I have so much to tell that I thought I would break it down in a series of mini posts, to make it more interesting and accompany each post with a recipe that I was taught so you get a bit of travel tips and a recipe combined. Well that’s the plan – I hope you like it. First up – if you are planning or are just interested in Sri Lanka or just love history and travel then I really recommend you pick up a copy of both of these books. They are absolutely excellent and very well written.

 

After a long flight there is nothing better than arriving and acclimatising to your destination as quickly as possible. Horathapola Estate helped us to just that and I would return in a heartbeat.

It’s a good hours drive from the Colombo airport, in the countryside on a glorious old estate with plenty of charm and elegance. Arriving we were greeted by these two smiling gentlemen with fresh coconuts juice – the perfect drink in the midday sun.

 

Photo credit: Horathapolo Estate Instagram feed (check it out as it captures the estate beautifully)

The place is small and intimate – 5 bedrooms, so you are not going to find coach loads of tourists arriving here. Phew. They put us in the beautiful family lodge, which was a two bedroom cottage with two large bathrooms and four poster beds with, importantly, mosquito nets to keep the blighters at bay.

It has a beautiful pool to relax in, that you can even share with the odd passing holy cow – that was definitely a first. The wildlife wandering by and the sounds coming from the trees was enchanting – it almost has something mystical about the place.

Keen to explore the estate we were whisked off……well maybe not whisked but a slow plod, on a bullock cart around the grounds. This was the mode of transport for all Sri Lankans before the motor car, tuk tuk and train arrived. We were shown flora, fauna and wildlife – of particular interest was this:

The cashew nut. One single seed (or nut as we know it) comes from each fruit. We learnt that surrounding the seed is an acid that is an irritant to the skin – similar to the toxins found in poison ivy – and that long gloves need to be worn when opening up the seed. By properly roasting the cashew – outside as the smoke contains droplets that can seriously irritate the lungs – destroys the toxin. This laborous process, combined with the fact that only one seeds comes from a fruit, may explain why cashew nuts are so expensive. Indeed cashew nut curry in Sri Lanka is only really served at special occasions, such as weddings.

Staying at this beautiful estate was the perfect introduction to life in Sri Lanka. We immediately felt at home and eager to embrace our new surroundings. Eating a bowl of rasam (one of my absolutely favourite soups) – a deliciously fragrant and black pepper Sri Lankan soup, tasted heavenly after 10 hours on a plane.

In fact I could have eaten bowls of it, but restrained myself as supper was only a few hours away. The food at Horathapola Estate was Sri Lankan food at it’s best. When travelling I much prefer to eat food from that specific country, rather than Western food, which I can frankly eat anytime when I am home in London. I visited the kitchen and met the chefs and the food was all freshly made for the guests. I could not fault it – it wasn’t uber fancy, but to be honest I’m not really into that kind of food – and would definitely love to return in the future and stay for a little longer next time.

The first recipe I wanted to share with you today is a Sri Lankan tuna curry. I was taught the recipe by chefs I met later in my travels, and thought it was a great way to incorporate tuna into a curry. There are a couple of ingredients that you maybe unfamiliar with. The first is pandan leaves, also known as rampa. They have long green blade like leaves and add a distinct and aromatic flavour to a curry or even a dessert.  They are widely used in cooking in South Asia and I picked up mine from my local Sri Lankan grocers. You can easily find them on the internet – Amazon even sells them fresh, and Thai grocers will also stock them. You can freeze them, so a packet will last you for some time.

The other ingredient that you may not have come across is Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, which is deeply aromatic with a reddish hue. The spices are dry roasted before being blended together to create a powder. You can buy online or make your own, it really is pretty straightforward.

Sri Lankan Tuna Curry

Serves 4 (accompanied with some vegetable curries)

400g cubed tuna (bite sized)

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp Sri Lankan roasted curry powder

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

100ml cold water

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 lemongrass, cut in half

1 fresh green chilli sliced

1 pandan leaf, broken into 4

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped

6 tbsp thin coconut milk

1/2 tsp salt or to taste

 

  1. In a bowl add the cubed tuna, red chilli powder, black pepper and roasted curry powder and then add about 100ml of cold water. Mix together and set aside.
  2. In a pan add a little vegetable oil and when it is hot, but on a low to medium heat,  add the red onion, lemongrass, pandan leaves, garlic and allow to cook in the pan for a few minutes. Stir from time to time to stop the onions sticking to the base of the pan.
  3. Add the tomatoes and allow to soften before adding the tuna and spicy liquid that you had set aside.
  4. Add 2 tbsp of coconut milk – ideally the thinner milk, as opposed to the thicker cream. Gently turn the tuna at intervals, careful not to break it up. It is a firm fish so it should hold together well. Add a further 2 tbsp of coconut milk.
  5. Add the salt to taste and finally add a further 2 tbsp of coconut milk. Simmer gently. If you feel it is too spicy add a little more coconut milk.
  6. The tuna will be cooked within 10-15 minutes and place to one side, until ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mini-Break at ‘The Old Rectory On the Lake’, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Ever fancy escaping the big smoke for a mini-break to endless hills, green pastures and killer views? Staying in a B&B, that even caters spectacularly for supper on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (and Thursday if you ask nicely), that is nestled on the edge of a picturesque lake and where the sound of sheep, birds and perhaps the odd otter diving into said lake, is the only noise you will hear for miles around. If peace, fresh air and stretching your legs is what you are after, I have just the place for you.

Nestled in the southern part of  Snowdonia National Park, in Wales, is The Old Rectory on the Lake (the lake in question is Tal-y-Llyn) owned by the jovial raconteur John and his talented chef partner Ricky, who together work as a dynamic duo making sure guests are well fed and watered at the start and the end of each day.

John is on hand to help guests get the most out of their stay with helpful suggestions on which walks to go on, depending on the weather on that day, or other places of interest in the vicinity. Having owned The Old Rectory for the past 12 years he is very well tapped into the local knowledge of the area.

Waking up to this view every morning is pretty special don’t you think?

 

For those who prefer a gently amble to a demanding hike, walking around the lake will take about an hour and there is lots to see. The weather changes so rapidly in this area that in a single day you can go through cloud, rain, wind and sun. As long as you come dressed prepared for the elements then there really is nothing to worry about.

In the space of a short time the weather went from this

 

…to this sunset across the lake. Pretty stunning.

 

Just behind the B&B is Cader Idris – the second most popular mountain in Wales after Snowdon. Those who have climbed both claim that Idris is more challenging. You can climb it directly from the hotel, but instead we opted for the easier route via the ‘pony path’, so drove around a few peaks to the town of Dolgellau, where we left our car in a small car park at the base of the hike.

The hike is demanding at times, but we went at a gentle pace – our youngest is only 7 yrs old. Once we had reached the ridge by the very top the wind had come from nowhere, which prevented me and my daughters from clambering up the final 5 mins, for fear of being blown off the mountain – literally.  Mr B – my husband – quickly managed to nip up and take the obligatory photo from the top.

Anyway it felt like a huge achievement – 4h 30 mins walk – 6 miles. Back at The Old Rectory we relaxed in the hot tub to rest our weary limbs, drank tea and readied ourselves for supper.

 

 

(view from Precipice walk, which we did on another day – definitely worth walking this one too)

Each evening we were treated to a three course affair that had been cooked by Ricky, who clearly has huge passion and flair for cooking. It’s not often that you stay at a B&B and be treated to restaurant quality food – think Welsh lamb, confit leg of duck, seabass, beef and the most warming and flavoursome soups for starters (amongst other equally tempting sounding starters). Desserts were wide ranging: from mango creme brûlée, lemon tart, pancakes with fruits, chocolate fondants, to name a few. After a good days hike we felt we deserved such a feast! Breakfast also set  you up for the day with everything from a full English to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, to eggs Benedict, as well as a plethora of fresh fruits, yoghurts and cereals.

It’s funny how quickly you relax into another routine and I think staying in The Old Rectory helped us do just that. From climbing peaks, to exploring old abandoned castles, visiting chapels, riding a steam train to the coast, walking stretches of wide sandy beaches and relaxing for a light lunch in Aberdyfi overlooking the sea.

Three days away and we felt we had been away for so much longer. It’s a four hour drive from London, although on the way back we drove cross country, stopping off at Hay-on-Wye for a browse around the bookshops

 

and the castle

before grabbing a bite to eat at Tomatitos tapas restaurant then making our way back to the bright lights of London town.

 

For rates and to book The Old Rectory On The Lake – press here. John and Ricky will delighted to meet you.

Please mention my blog if you make a booking.

 

chilliandmint paid full price when staying at The Old Rectory on The Lake. The views are my own and no discount was received to write this blog post!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Book Review: Mountain Berries and Desert Spice and Spiced Apple Samosas

 

I am probably the first to admit that I often overlook desserts and sweet things. In the case of cookbooks I also tend to find that the obligatory sweet recipes are placed in the back, often as an afterthought and the centre stage is given to the savoury dishes.

Coming out this April, however, is a beautifully evocative book that focuses exclusively on sweet inspirations from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea, written by food writer and cookery teacher, Sumayya Usmani, author of ‘Summers Under the Tamarind Tree’ – I wrote all about her first book here. It’s actually rather refreshing to have a book solely dedicated to all manner of sweet delights from Sumayya’s homeland, Pakistan.

 

Photography © Joanna Yee – Mountain Berries and Desert Spice by Sumayya Usmani is published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto group

She interweaves stories of her childhood and memories with beautiful photographs of the region and recipes that really tempt you to try making for yourself at home. It’s the type of book that I like to pour over and read all the stories as well as the recipes. She demystifies how to make all manner of sweet delights – family recipes from the foothills of the Hundu Kush mountains in the north – where berries and fruits grow in abundance, via the fertile Punjab, where rice and grain based desserts are prevalent to the Arabian sea in the south, where saffron and cardamon laced sweet recipes are a favourite.

 

 

The chapters themselves are equally evocative and capture the essence of the book wonderfully:

Chilli mangoes and ocean breeze

Festive spice and roses

Sugar almonds and buffalo milk

Kite, kingdoms and cardamon samosas

Through mulberry valleys

A saffron blaze

and so they go on….

Many of the recipes look inviting from ‘Sohan saffron honey caramels with rose water, pistachio and almonds to Bakar khani – sweet puff pastry biscuits, Mulberry and cherry fruit leather, Nan-e nokhochi – chickpea flour shortbread with cloves. Rose water, rose petals, saffron threads and pistachio are used on many occasions in the recipes so it may well be worth stocking up on these. When mangoes are in season I can’t wait to try the ‘mango, thyme and pink salt with rose water clotted cream’ – I like the sweet and salty aspect to this dish.

I opted for the ‘spiced apple samosas’ for todays post. The pastry was really easy and quick to make and I covered it with a damp cloth whilst I made the filling for the samosas.

The trick is to not over fill the samosas. Keep close to the instructions and you won’t go wrong. I sprinkled them with a little more cinnamon powder and icing sugar before eating. I had extra filling leftover so made another batch of pastry. The perfect afternoon snack with a cup of tea or chai.

 

Spiced Apple Samosas

makes 6-8

for the pastry

150g plain all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 tbsp fine semolina

water, as needed

vegetable oil for deep frying

For the filling

6 Royal Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces

100g super fine golden caster sugar

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground

pinch of mace

  1. To make the pastry combine the flour, salt and semolina in a bowl. Add water slowly so that the dough is formed.
  2. Knead the dough until it is soft and then cover with a damp towel.
  3. In a saucepan add the apples, sugar and spices and cook on a low heat until they soften – about 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
  4. Roll the dough out so that it is 1/4 inch thick and using a pastry cutter – I tried with both 2 and 3 inch diameter cutters – larger is slightly easier. Cut out around 6-8 circles.
  5. Place 1 tsp of filling for each samosa and fold over to create a half moon shape. Using a fork, press down firmly to seal completely.
  6. Heat the oil and when it is hot (check by dropping in a crumb to see if it fizzles) drop in a couple of the samosas. Deep-fry for 2 minutes on each side – or less if your oil is hotter. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.

Sumayya suggests serving with whipped cream with a teaspoon of rose water and dried rose petals. 

You can pre-order Mountain Berries and Desert Spice here

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gobi Aloo Kasoori Methi – Cauliflower with Potato and Dried Fenugreek Leaves

Cauliflower, in my view, is massively underrated. In the past it was perhaps thought of as a little bland, but when you boil anything I guess it could be described as bland. Growing up we had cauliflower cheese – which don’t get me wrong, is delicious – but beyond that people really didn’t tend to do much with it.  That has all changed though in the last couple of years, with dishes such as cauliflower rice, cauliflower base for pizza, roasted cauliflower, burnt cauliflower – you name it, people are getting creative with this humble ingredient. In Indian cuisine  it is hugely versatile and used in all manner of dishes.

Throw a little spice into the mix and you have yourself a very tasty little number. I thought I would show you one of my favourite cauliflower recipes that works well either on its own or as part of a larger Indian feast. Dried methi, or fenugreek as it is also known, is fairly easy to come by these days. Certainly the large supermarkets stock it, but I like to get it from one of my local Asian grocers. You can order online  – herfrom Asian Dukan. Easy.

Methi has a wonderful aroma, that works so well with the cauliflower. Only scatter the dried leaves over the cauliflower at the very end of cooking and gently fold the leaves into the dish. I cook this dish with the trinity of Indian spices: turmeric, cumin and coriander, but my mother-in-law likes to keep it super simple and literally just add, oil, dried chilli, salt and dried methi. It is also delicious this way, but try my slightly more elaborate way first.

Gobi Aloo Kasoori Methi – Cauliflower with Potato and Dried Fenugreek Leaves

serves 4-6 along with another dish or two.

2 medium potatoes, cubed into 2-2.5cm

3-4 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 small dried red chillies

1 cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp salt, to taste

sprinkling of water

2 tbsp of Kasoori Methi

 

  1. Peel the potatoes and then once diced place them in a pan of boiling water and boil for around 8 minutes or until softened but not mushy. Strain and place to one side.
  2. In a large wide pan (ideally with a lid), add 1 tablespoon of oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds move around the pan for 10 seconds before adding the dried chillies.
  3. Add the boiled cubed potatoes and cover with the cumin seeds.
  4. Place the cauliflower florets into the pan and move around so that they are also beginning to coat themselves in the cumin seeds. You will need to add a little more oil at this stage to help the cauliflower cook and soften. Add the oil at stages instead of all at once.
  5. Add the turmeric, cumin and coriander powders along with the salt and fold into the cauliflower.
  6. Keep the cauliflower gently moving around the pan at intervals. Sprinkle a little water to help soften the cauliflower and place a lid on the pan.
  7. Every few minutes move the contents of the pan around.
  8. Continue to cook gently, on a low heat for a further 10-15 minutes so that the cauliflower has softened.
  9. Finally add the fenugreek leaves – kasoori methi and gently fold into the cauliflower. Take off the heat and serve.

An alternative and even simpler way to cook this dish is to replace cumin seeds with methi (fenugreek) seeds, do not add any spice and then the kasoori methi. Obviously the dish is not as yellow in colour but still tastes really delicious. You can also omit the potatoes if you wish. 


Marinated Gravadlax, Pickled Cucumber and a Honey Mustard Dressing

 

Growing up smoked salmon, or gravadlax, used to be a real treat, something that you would have very occasionally – at Christmas perhaps on Christmas morning or over Easter.  Somehow though over the years its become  rather ubiquitous and in some cases rather bland. Go to any sandwich store or deli and you’ll find it sitting there next to the cheese and pickle sarnies. The glamour and decadence seems to have gone.

I can help you change all that with a few simple steps. Marinated gravadlax is not only super easy (I know I tend to say that rather a lot but I sincerely mean it!) but it also tastes ridiculously good. You’ll also get tons of brownie points if you bring it out when guests are over.

I loosely followed Simon Hopkinson’s recipe – you can see it here and the video here. Rather confusingly it says that it only takes overnight to prepare and then in the body of the method it says 48 hours. Confusing. I researched other recipes and all the others were for 24 hours so I followed suit. As I did not finish it all in one sitting I returned the remaining portion of salmon back into the fridge with the marinade to see if the taste changed with another night in the fridge. I did not find any difference so I think I will continue with 24 hours.

So here is my step-by-step method.

Home Cured Gravadlax 

500g of fresh salmon fillet, skin on, bones removed (I bought this one)

85g caster sugar

70g sea salt

2 tbsp gin

2 tsp of fresh ground white pepper (next time I will try it with black or pink to see how it turns out)

80g fresh dill

  1. First make up the paste. Mix the sugar, salt, gin, pepper and dill in a blender or pestle and mortar.
  2. Take the salmon out of it’s packaging – do not throw this away as it is perfect size to marinate the gravadlax in over night.
  3. Distribute the  paste evenly on the bottom of the packaging tray and then once you have laid the salmon in – flesh side down – place the rest of the paste on top. Press down firmly.
  4. Cover with cling film and leave for 24 hours – turning a couple of times if you can.

Pickled Cucumber

1 whole cucumber, thinly sliced on a mandolin (I have this one)

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 caster sugar

1 sea salt

a little freshly ground white pepper (again pink or black could be good here)

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and leave to macerate in the fridge for an hour.
  2. A fair amount of liquid will have formed so discard this and place the cucumber back in the fridge until ready to use.

Honey Mustard Dill Dressing

2 tbsp of yellow Dijon mustard

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tbsp of runny honey

squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

20g fresh dill, finely chopped

salt, to taste

pepper, taste

extra virgin olive oil

  1. Mix all the ingredients together, aside for the extra virgin olive oil. Gradually pour this into the dressing stirring as you do so. It will thicken, much like hollandaise.  Taste and add more salt/honey/lemon juice as your taste buds require.

 

I served all of the above on a bilini – mustard dressing then a little cucumber and then a thin slice of gravadlax. Equally you could present the gravadlax as a starter and slice it into strips at the table (or before) and keep the cucumber as a salad and the dressing for guests to serve themselves. A slice of rye on the side would be perfect.

I’m planning to do beetroot next and then start experimenting with flavours – juniper, orange zest, mint.

It will change the way you look at gravadlax going forward.

 

 

 


Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

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Cooking at the end of the day when you are tired and exhausted can be a bit of a chore. I always have loads of tomatoes in my fridge – probably my favourite ingredient of all time – so am often coming up with inventive ways to use them – Indian style tomato chutney anyone?

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This recipe uses them as the star ingredient and as I always like to eat greens, a handful of fresh spinach  complements the dish perfectly. If you have some fresh fish, place it in the oven for 10 minutes (you may need a little longer if you have a large fish/portion) then you can quickly whip this tomato side dish to accompany the fish. Easy and no fuss.

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It’s also great to use alongside more on an Indian feast if you are feeding a crowd. It adds zing and heat in equal measure.

Hot Spiced Tomatoes with Spinach

Serves 4 (accompanied with another dish or two)

2 tbsp rapeseed/vegetable oil

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

450g large tomatoes (works out to be about 6), quartered

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (less if you like it less hot)

1 tbsp jaggery (or sugar if you don’t have jaggery see note below)

1 tsp salt

100ml water

1 handful of fresh spinach

  1. Gently heat the oil and when it is hot place the cumin and mustard seeds into the pan. They will sizzle immediately. Keep the heat low. After 10 seconds add the quartered tomatoes and move around the pan so that the spices cover them.
  2. Add the spices, salt and jaggery and then after 20 seconds add the water. Keep on a low heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the fresh spinach and take off the heat. The spinach will wilt from the heat of the tomatoes. Do not overcook the tomatoes as you want them to have soften but still to have held their shape as much as possible.

Serve with freshly cooked fish or chicken or as part of a large Indian feast.

Jaggery – also known as palm sugar – check out the health benefits of using jaggery instead of sugar here.


Homemade Naan Bread, The Black Forest and The Knights Templar

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Soft pillowy naan bread dunked into a bowl of dal has got to be THE ultimate comfort food. As those who have been reading my blog for sometime will know, whenever I return from holiday the first thing I cook is some dal. It’s quick, easy and you can determine the amount of fresh chilli that you put in it. There are so many dals you can make, but I often opt for  – red split lentil dal. You can add whatever vegetable you have to hand – tomatoes, peas, carrots – but I would advise not adding more than 2 max.img_4536-3

I had spent a week in the glorious Black Forest in the south west corner of Germany. Wifi is hit and miss – hence the lack of a blog post last week, apologies – so it allows you to unwind properly and relax in this beautiful part of the country. img_4524-3

 

The top of the hills were covered in snow, but down in the valleys the pastures were green, which gave us the option of walks in the meadows and through the forests or skiing at higher altitudes.

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We were blessed with clear blue skies and warming winter sun. A stunning combination.

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Whilst our days were spent out and about in the fresh air, our evenings were spent sitting by the roaring fires eating the local produce of venison, wild boar, cheese, breads, wine, an interesting salad leaf that can only be found in the Black Forest around February (name escapes me, but it was a cross between rocket and watercress) and Black Forest gateaux – naturally.

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We drove from London, staying over for a couple of nights in Strasbourg on the way, admiring it’s impressive cathedral and quaint streets. In many ways in reminded me of Bruges or nearby Colmar – definitely worth a detour if you haven’t been.

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Strasbourg is easy to explore on foot and has a number of museums and art galleries in close proximity. A boat trip on the waterways is also a must and helps you get your bearings.

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To break up our homeward journey we stayed in Laon, in the region of Picardy. If medieval history is of interest to you then this place is an absolute must. We stayed in one of the old canon’s houses (there were  84 canons at one time living in Laon – it was the largest chapter in France in the 12th and 13th centuries) up in the attic with a view of the cathedral. Our airbnb host was a charming and well travelled French man who was keen to show us his eleventh century frescos and ruins in his cellar. The cellar stretched under the whole of his house and when we had seen what we thought was the extent of it, he revealed another doorway with steps leading further down to another level. We proceeded to explore this level and then found further steps leading to another level. It was a cavern within a cavern within a cavern.  It was without doubt the most incredibly historical cellar we have ever been in and an archaeologist/historians dream. Over the ages new floors were simply added – we could make out the old stables on one level. Apparently there are many passageways linking up the canon’s houses surrounding the cathedral. I imagine many of them are filled in or perhaps not yet discovered by their occupants living many metres above.

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The Knights Templar spent much time both in Laon and the surrounding area. They built this magnificent church (above) modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 1140. Unfortunately we only managed to spend a few minutes here before we were ushered out as it was closing time, so the museum that stands beside it will have to wait for a future visit.

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The Cathedral itself is worth a visit and in fact it was what initially drew us to this hill top city a couple of years ago, as we could see it’s towers from miles away. Laon is only 80 miles north east of Paris and only a couple of hours from Calais so  it’s a good place to stopover before catching the Euro tunnel home.

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Anyway enough of my travels and back to the matter at hand….naan bread. Believe it or not they are really easy to cook yourself. Making the dough is pretty straight forward and then you need to let it rest, in a warm part of your house, for 1-2 hours to let it increase in size.

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Then it is simply a case of rolling out the naan into small, thin, oval shapes. You can add nigella (black onion seeds) or sesame seeds on the top or keep them plain. Sometimes I like to add a couple of teaspoons of garlic paste to make garlic naan. You can be as inventive as you like in all honesty.

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I tend to cook mine in a frying pan – do not add any oil – but you can also cook them under the grill if you prefer, but be watchful as they bronze quickly.

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It takes no more than a minute or so to cook them and then I add some melted butter on top. Equally if you prefer you can add some melted ghee or even milk.

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My girls (and husband) love them both with a meal or an after school snack. Serve them warm and eat straight away. A wonderful treat and perfect for chilly February weather.

 

Homemade Naan Bread

makes around 9-10 naan bread

400g plain flour

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

5g dried yeast

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg beaten

100g full fat plain yoghurt

100ml warm full fat milk

1 tbsp butter, melted

 optional: nigella/sesame seeds/fresh coriander as a topping

If you want to make garlic naan add a couple of tsp of garlic paste at the beginning and mix into the dough.

  1. In a large mixing bowl add the flour and then make a hole in the centre and pour in the oil, dried yeast, salt, sugar, baking powder and beaten egg.
  2. Mix gently using your hands and once it has become quite crumbly add the yoghurt and then continue to mix together.
  3. Now gradually add in the warm milk until all the mixture comes together.
  4. Remove from the bowl and place a little plain flour on a cold surface.
  5. Kneed the dough for 5 minutes until it become soft and pliable.
  6. Return to the bowl and cover with cling film and leave in a warm room for over an hour so that it can increase in size.
  7. When it is ready, split the dough into even balls and begin to roll them out thinly in oval shapes.  You may need a sprinkling of extra flour at this stage to prevent it from sticking to the surface. Pierce gently with a fork. If adding nigella/sesame seeds lay a few on the top and gently roll them into the top of the naan.
  8. Heat a non-stick frying pan. When it is properly hot add a naan bread and leave for around 20 seconds before turning over and leaving for a further 20 seconds. Turn once more for a few more seconds – or longer if it is not bronzing sufficiently.
  9. Remove from the pan and add a little melted butter to the top. Keep under a warm tea towel whilst you work on the remaining naan. As the naan’s I make are quite small I can often manage two in a pan at a time.

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