Happy New Year and Toor Dal with Fresh Coconut and White Poppy Seeds

Happy New Year and a warm welcome to my new (and old of course!) followers who have recently signed up to this blog.

January is a funny old month. The revelries from Christmas and the New Year are well and truly over and we all look forward to making a fresh start in the new year. With goals, aims, hopes and plans whirling away in our heads, it’s like shedding a skin and growing a new one. Veganuary has gained a lot of momentum over the last few years, with increasing numbers introducing more vegan recipes into their diets and some even making the transition to become fully vegan. Whilst I have no plans to ‘do’ veganuary, I naturally eat a number of vegan meals throughout the year without even really thinking about it. Indian food is heavily focused on vegetables with the large majority in India having a vegetarian diet. On this blog I have a number of recipes which would work really well if you want to bring more vegetarian or vegan meals into your culinary repertoire. Here are just a few.

Upma (a savoury breakfast semolina eaten in India)

Dale Bora (a delicious street snack from Kolkata)

Indian sprout and carrot curry

Beetroot curry

Cauliflower with dried fenugreek/methi

Black pepper tofu

Aubergine, peanut and tomato curry

Indian corn on the cob

Butternut, lemongrass, coconut and spinach curry

For my first recipe for 2020 however I thought I would show you a new dal recipe, which just happens to be vegan. I have loads on my blog – just pop the word ‘dal’ in the search box on the right when you go to my blog. Dals all taste so different that I could make a different one each day of the week and they would be completely unique.

This one uses the toor dal, which is also known as ‘pigeon pea’. It looks similar to the chana dal, which is a split chickpea. You don’t need to soak it but it does take around 50 minutes to soften sufficiently if you are using the stove top. When it is gently boiling away you will need to remove, with a spoon, the scum that will form whilst cooking. You may also need to add more water if it looks to become too dry. I never measure out the water and instead go more from sight and add a little more here and there when required.

Excuse the rather dark muted photos of the dal – I cooked it in the afternoon and when I was ready to photograph the light had gone so had to use the lights from my kitchen which give it a pretty awful glow. Anyway you get the gist. I ate it along with a butternut squash curry I made and a cabbage curry mopped up with some homemade luchi – which are also known as poori. Most delicious and all coincidentally vegan.

 Toor Dal with Poppy Seeds and Fresh Coconut

250g toor dal, washed through a couple of times with cold water

900ml water

2 tbsp rapeseed/sunflower oil

1 white onion, finely chopped

30g grated fresh coconut (or desiccated)

a small handful of fresh coriander

100ml water

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp brown mustard seeds

2 tsp white poppy seeds

10 fresh curry leaves (you can freeze them – much better than dried which have lost their taste)

1 heaped tsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tomato, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 fresh lemon, juice only

salt to taste

  1. First rinse the toor dal and then place it in a pan and cover completely with water. Start by adding 900ml water and you can add more later once the water has soaked up. It will take around 50 minutes to soften. Scum will form on the top so just remove this with a spoon and discard. You know the dal has softened when you can easily pinch one toor dal between your thumb and forefinger. Continue to add a little more water if it has all been soaked up.
  2. Meanwhile in a frying pan, add a tablespoon of oil and gently fry the onion and the fresh coconut so that they begin to lightly bronze. Remove from the pan and then blitz in a blender with some fresh coriander and then leave to one side.
  3. Using the same pan add the rest of the oil and add the cumin, mustard and poppy seeds. They will begin to sizzle almost immediately. Be careful of the spluttering.
  4. Add the fresh curry leaves and the ginger-garlic paste – fresh or store bought. Move around the pan and then add the tomato and fresh chilli.
  5. Return the blitzed onion-coconut-fresh coriander to the pan and stir so that all the ingredients are nicely mixed together.
  6. Now add the turmeric, coriander, Kashmiri chilli powder, lemon juice and salt.
  7. Once the dal has softened turn the contents of the frying pan into the dal and mix together. Check the salt levels.
  8. Leave to simmer for a few more minutes, then you are ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 


Fennel and Preserved Lemon Soup

As those who have been following this blog for a while will know, I absolutely ADORE soups. I’m happy to eat them all year round for breakfast (yes, in Vietnam you eat pho – which is their version of a soup/broth – for breakfast), lunch or supper. I am always trying to think of new pairings that might work well and since I had some fennel in my fridge that needed to be eaten I thought I would use that as the star ingredient and built up a few other ingredients around them.

I always have preserved lemons in my fridge so I decided to use them along with a leek. My other go to ingredient, which completely elevates dishes and which I do go on about a lot on my instatories, is my garlic confit. Seriously it takes very little effort to make a batch, stores in the fridge for ages, and really adds huge flavour to a host of dishes. In fact, it would make a great Christmas gift for any foodie friends or family. It shows thought and I bet the receiver would love you forever (although I am sure they already do ;o) anyway I digress.

The other ingredients are vegetable stock – I literally just used a stock cube, water, pepper and salt. I decided to top each soup with a parmesan crips and some of the fennel fronds to add a bit of umami to the dish (coming from the parmesan). If you are on instagram go to my stories and you can watch me cooking the dish on my instastories.

I think this soup would be a good one over the Christmas season if you are cooking for large groups. We always have a starter at each meal when the whole family gets together, so I will be definitely adding this one to my repertoire over Christmas.

 

Fennel and Preserved Lemon Soup

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp garlic confit including around 5 garlic cloves from the confit

2 fennel, finely chopped (fronds removed and placed to one side)

1 leek, finely sliced

1-2 preserved lemons, finely chopped

1.2 litres water

1 vegetable stock cube

salt and pepper

 

Parmasan Crisps

will make 6

50g parmesan, finely grated

freshly ground black pepper

 

 

  1. Finely cut the fennel, removing the fronds and placing them to one side – you can use these later when serving the soup.
  2. Finely cut the leeks.
  3. Heat a large deep pan an add the garlic confit – oil and a few of the garlic cloves. This is what will really give the soup flavour and depth. Move around the pan and then add the fennel, leeks and a little salt and allow them to sweat and soften for 5-6 minutes.
  4. Add the preserved lemon. Add one to begin with, you can easily add one more later if you want it more lemony.
  5. Add the vegetable stock and boiling water and allow to simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender, blend the soup so that it is completely smooth. You many need to add more water if you want it less thick in consistency. Taste test and then add a little more salt and freshly ground pepper. Also check on how lemony the soup is. If you would like it more so, add one more preserved lemon. It’s really down to personal preference so taste test and see what you think. Personally I like to add two.
  7. To make the parmesan crisps, preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  8. Finely grate the parmesan and then place them in round piles and flatten to approx 2 inches in diameter on the greaseproof paper. Space them out as they will spread slightly. Add a little freshly ground black pepper on top.
  9. Heat in the oven for 6-8 minutes, so that they begin to lightly bronze, then remove and allow to cool.
  10. When serving the soup place a couple of ladles in each bowl and then add a parmesan crisp, some fennel fronds and sound freshly ground pepper.

Delicious. I hope you agree.

 


Honey and Smoked Paprika Spatchcock Partridges on a Rocket Pesto

Recently I was watching ‘Masterchef the Professionals’ and chef Monica Geletti set the challenge of spatchcocking a quail and making a rocket pesto (series 12, episode 4 if you want to take a look). She made it look ridiculously easy, but of course being under pressure of being on TV for the first time the chefs didn’t find it quite as easy as she made it look. It did however, give me the idea of replicating said dish at home as we had some partridges sitting in my freezer, and whilst a little bigger than quail, will require the same method of cooking albeit for a few minutes longer.

She set the challenge at 15 minutes to do the whole thing – prep and cook the quail and make the pesto. It took me a little longer, but not too much – largely owing to the fact I was cooking for three and not one. The result was absolutely delicious and I think spatchcocking game birds is definitely the way forward. Excuse the poor quality photos – I cooked it in the evening when it was dark outside, so taking photos in those conditions is never going to give you the perfect shot – but you get the idea.

 

Spatchcock Honey and Smoked Paprika Partridge with a Rocket Pesto

3 partridges/quail

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 garlic cloves

70g pine nuts

110g fresh rocket

good glugs of extra virgin olive oil (around 150ml)

approx 50g parmesan cheese, freshly grated

 

 

 

  1. First prepare the game bird (quail, partridge etc) by cutting up the backbone and remove the innards from it.
  2. Turn it over and then press down hard so that it lays flat.
  3. Now you want to make a rub. You could mix honey with smoked paprika – which I did, or you could use sumac, garam masala, cumin, curry powder – lots of options.
  4. Once you have covered the bird with the rub, heat a griddle pan and when it is hot place the bird down firmly into the pan, breast side first – you want to sear the outside so that it creates the charred lines across it. This will take a few minutes.
  5. Then turn it over and after a further minute, remove the bird and place on a plate whilst you continue to sear the remaining birds. Once they have all been seared place back into the griddle pan or a roasting dish and cook in an oven preheated to 80 degrees fan – for 7-10 minutes (around 7-8 for a quail, and 10 for a partridge which is a little bigger). To check that they are cooked simply give then a gently prod with your finger. When they are done the flesh will feel firm.
  6. Whilst it is cooking, lightly toast off the pine nuts in a frying pan (do NOT add any oil) so that the oils are released naturally.
  7. Place the garlic into a pestle a mortar and pound it until smooth and then add the rocket, followed by the pine nuts. You can do all of this in a mini blender but I think it is nice to have a little bit of texture, hence preparing it in a pestle and mortar.
  8. Add a little of the oil and some parmesan. You need to taste and see if you need more of any of the ingredients as it is very much down to personal taste. Season as required.
  9. Once the partridge has cooked sufficiently, remove from the oven and cut in half lengthways.
  10. To plate up, place a bit of the rocket pesto in the centre of the plate and smear into a round circle, wider than the bird.
  11. Then place the halved bird on top of the pesto, leaning one half at angles onto the other.
  12. I also accompanied with a few roast potatoes and some kale, which I had lightly cooked in some oil and some chilli flakes.

To follow I skipped pudding and instead opted for a cheeseboard with some fresh fruit. All in all a deliciously decadent meal and yet very easy to prepare.


Indian Sprout and Carrot Curry – perfect for this time of year

This recipe I posted way back in 2012 (yes my blog has been running for that long!), but unless you scroll my recipe library you are unlikely to know it is even there. Quite frankly, it’s fab and will win over even the non-sprout lover amongst us. Seriously. Basically, by adding a touch of spice, it elevates the humble sprout. We are beginning to see them in the shops so I urge you to give this recipe a whirl when you are next mulling over what to cook. Give it to your family, flat mates, friends and don’t tell them what it is and I can bet you they will love it and ask for more. Mention the word ‘sprout’ however and then they may not even give the dish a chance.

My mother-in-law originally taught me this many years ago and now it’s a firm favourite in my Indian culinary repertoire.  If you cook it alongside a dal it makes a perfect vegan meal. I suggest my go to ‘Bengali Red Split Lentil Dal’ would be the perfect accompaniment. Both dishes can be prepared and cooked within 30 mins and  are very affordable, healthy and tasty. It’s a win win win.

Indian Sprout and Carrot Curry

Serves 4

325g sprouts, finely sliced

300g carrots, grated

1 green chilli, finely sliced (optional)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 level tsp turmeric

1 tsp nigella seeds (kalo jeera)

1 tsp salt

100ml water

1. Finely slice the sprouts, grate the carrots and, if using, finely chop the chilli. I tend to leave the seeds in, but to make it less spicy just remove the seeds.

2. Heat a pan with oil and add the nigella seeds. After 10 seconds add the chilli and turmeric and stir in together for a further 10 seconds.

3. Add the sprouts and carrots and stir well with the other ingredients. Continue to stir continuously on a medium heat so that the carrots and sprouts soften and do not burn. Use a wooden spoon to press down on the ingredients as you gently stir.

4. After a few minutes of stirring add 50ml of water and stir into the curry. You may find that you do not need to use the remaining 50ml of water if the sprouts and carrots are sufficiently softened. Add the salt to taste. Continue stirring for a further 5-7 minutes and the dish will be done.

Nigella seeds (above)


Lamb Keema an alternative to Spaghetti Bolognese

A British staple is good old spaghetti bolognese – we all grew up eating it and many regard it as the ultimate comfort food. These days I rather gravitate towards the Indian twist on the bolognese known as ‘lamb keema masala’. My girls adore it too and I personally like to eat it with some hot Indian flat bread. It has onions and garlic in it, like bolognese, but how it differs is the range of fragrant spices that go into it: cloves, cardamom, coriander, cumin, garam masala and ginger. I like to dice a large potato and throw that in too and it soaks up all the glorious flavours.

So how about this giving my keema a go next time you think of cooking a mince dish? It’s versatile, very easy to prepare and tastes really delicious. Bolognese with a twist. I hope you agree.

Lamb Keema Masala

Serves 4

800g minced lamb

2 tbs vegetable oil

1  red onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 fresh green chilli, finely chopped

5cm ginger, grated

6 black peppercorns,  roughly ground

5 cloves, whole or ground

5 cardamom pods, whole or ground

1 bay

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground almonds

1 heaped tsp of tomato puree

1 tsp salt

1 large potato, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces

2 handfuls of peas, optional

handful of fresh coriander to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a pan and then add the onion and garlic. When it begins to darken after 3-5 minutes add the ginger, green chillies black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom and bay leaf and gently fry all the ingredients for another couple of minutes.

2. Add the ground mince and chopped potato and stir into the onion, garlic and spices. Allow the lamb to brown, but use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the mince and make sure it does not clump together.

3. Now add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and garam masala, along with the ground almonds and tomato puree. Don’t forget to add a little salt. If you are adding peas add them at this stage.  You can add a little water – around 100ml will do – to moisten it all.

3. Gently simmer, with a lid on for 20 minutes, stirring intermittently. Check that the potatoes have softened.

4.  You can cook it earlier in the day and reheat it when you are ready to eat.

Note: You may find you need to add a very little boiling water when reheating it. 

5. Garnish with fresh coriander when serving.

 

It’s great with boiled rice or Indian flat bread.

 


Lunching and Brunching in Berlin

 

Berlin has a wealth of wonderful brunch and lunch spots so my list is not exhaustive, but instead some of the places I (or my sources) visited and recommend. I travelled with my husband and two daughters (13 and 10) recently and we all enjoyed the offerings at each establishment. Have a read and if you visit any I would love to hear what you think or perhaps you have some that you would add to the list.

Cafe Krone: Oderberger Str 38

Mon-Fri: 9-4pm Sat-Sun: 9.30-6.30pm(Sun) and 7pm (Sat)

There is always a crowd waiting to eat at this buzzy hip eatery in Prenzlauer Berg, although the wait is never very long. It’s near to the Mauerpark flee market, as well as the smaller and more refined flee market, ‘Flohmarkt Arkonaplatz’, both of which operate on Sundays. Cafe Krone offers a range of delicious hot drinks and brunch options including: ‘shakshuka’, ‘eggs benedict’, ‘eggs cooked anyway’, ‘pancakes’, ‘croissants’ – basically something to appeal to every palate. A great place to relax and enjoy the Berlin buzz and plan your adventures for the day ahead.

Jabe  Alte Schönhauser Str. 7-8, Mitte

Mon-Fri: 11.30-4pm, Sat: 12-11.30pm, Sun: 1-9.30pm

If you fancy a Japanese fix then head to Jabe for some seriously tasty Japanese fare. There are a number of starters – or what they call ‘titbits’ to share, such as ‘tebasaki’, ‘grilled tako’, ‘tomorokoshi’, ‘and ‘gyoza’ and then mains including a wide range of ‘udon bowls’, for example: ‘teriyaki don bowl’, ‘salmon truffle bowl’ and ‘kitzune bowl’, as well as a four different types of ‘salmon sashimi’. The place has good zen – as you would expect from a Japanese eatery and is a good pitstop for lunch (or dinner).

 

Mischke Fleischerei Schönhauser Allee 144

Mon-Fri 8-6.30pm, closed wkends

This butchers shop is a great place to have lunch if you want something quick and typically German. There is a wide range  meats with sides and sauces at reasonable prices. You can order anything from soups to schnitzel, although we opted for the traditional German sausage, which they heat up for you. You can sit outside or perch at high stools at little tables. It’s authentic and tasty so definitely worth a look in when you are in Berlin.

photo credit @cecconisberlin

Cecconi  Torstrasse 1, 10119

Monday – Friday: 11.30am – midnight
Saturday: 11am – midnight
Sunday: 11am – 11pm

Nestled on the ground floor of private members club, Soho House Berlin, Cecconi’s offers the public weekend brunch options, as well as all week lunch and dinner. It’s focus is Italian food – with tasty homemade pasta and seafood dishes to tempt diners. It’s sophisticated cool vibes create the perfect setting to pass a couple of hours eating and drinking and generally just soaking up the Berlin atmosphere.

Monsieur Vuong Alte Schönhauser Str. 46

Mon-Thurs: 12am-11pm

Fri-Sun: 12am-12pm

Did you know that the Vietnamese community make up 1.16% of all Berliners? As such there are a host of delicious Vietnamese restaurants spread across the city, which is good news for Berliners and tourists alike. I adore Vietnamese food so it was only natural that I would find myself gravitating to this cuisine on more than one occasion on my recent visit to Berlin.

Monsieur Vuong lies in the heart of the Mitte district (not far from Jabe in fact). The restaurant stands out with its red and yellow awning and its red leather benches outside. Inside the walls are painted orange and pink and there is always a buzz that attracts a hip crowd. The menu is short – as all good menus should be – with changing specials every two days. The food was fresh, light and zingy with delicious cocktails on offer too.  Definitely worth a visit when you are in Berlin.

 

Photo credit @vaguesouvenir

Cafe Einstein Stammhaus  Kurfürstenstr. 58, 10785

Mon-Sun: 8am-midnight

If you are seeking old school Viennese glamour and charm, then make a bee line to Cafe Einstein Stammhaus in the Tiergarten neighbourhood – it’s the perfect place for bunch whilst reading a newspaper on wooden rolls. It is housed in an Italian neoclassical villa in one of Europe’s great old coffeehouses. It’s waiters are dressed in black and white suits, and marble-topped tables with leather banquettes make the Viennese-inspired cafe feel like a relic of pre-war Berlin. It’s great for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner and is the perfect place to get your apfel strudel fix.

Film aficionados will recognise the place as the tense cafe scene in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

 

W-Der Imbiss Kastanienallee 49, 10119

Sun – Thu: 12pm – 10pm
Fri – Sat: 12pm – 11pm

It was the amusing use of the logo (you’ll see what I mean when you look at the photo below) that initially caught our attention to this Vegetarian Indo-Mexi-Cali-Ital fusion restaurant. Quite a mix hey! We were drawn to the thali – which is the Indian version of Spanish tapas – lots of small dishes so you can try a wide range of things.  It was always busy when we passed by, so made a mental note to visit it before we left. It’s self service, albeit you give your order at the counter and in turn are given a number. When it’s called out they bring it to your table. It’s small and intimate inside with more tables outside for diners to spill out to. It’s fun, well priced and nice to have some Indian spice in another European city for a change.

 

Do you have any favourite brunch or lunch spots that you gravitate to when you are in Berlin? I would love to know so do share in the comments section below.

 

 

 


10 Minute Vegetable Noodle Broth

Earlier this week I popped the photo above onto my instagram feed. It was a last minute speedy photo, not really styled, but a quick snap before I dived in. I hadn’t given it much attention but thought I would pop it up on my feed. It was simply a quick broth that I had thrown together in 10 minutes one lunch time. I hadn’t made the broth from scratch by boiling up the bones/veg, it was a quick fix that hit the spot and fast.

It had such a positive response with a number of people asking me for the recipe that I thought I would pop it up on my blog so you can all see how quick and easy it is to prepare.

In fact I have popped up very similar recipes on my blog to this one over the last few years. Check out the following. All equally delicious and pretty simple to make as you will see.

 

Fragrant Lemongrass and Ginger Salmon Broth

Chiang Mai Noodle Broth

Miso Chilli Vegetable Noodle Broth

King Prawn Noodle Broth

 

So for the one I made earlier this week the magic ingredient is my garlic confit. Have you tried making it? I popped it up on a post in the summer and all I can say is that it is now my fridge staple.

If you haven’t made a batch then simple add olive oil and add 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped. Let me know how you get on if you make it and tag me #chilliandmint @chilliandmint on your instagram feeds. Happy lunch time eating all. Life’s too short to rely on sandwiches and salads every lunch.

10 Minute Vegetable Noodle Broth

serves 2

2 tbsp of garlic confit oil or regular olive oil if you have not made my recipe above

4 garlic confit cloves or 4 regular garlic cloves, chopped

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, skin removed and finely chopped into batons

3 spring onions, sliced at an angle

1 red or green chilli, finely chopped, optional

1 heaped tbsp of white miso paste

1 pint boiling water

1 tbsp light soy sauce

8 broccoli florets, chopped in half

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

2 packets of udon noodles

2 eggs

10 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half

handful of fresh coriander

sprinkling of Japanese togarashi

 

  1. Gently lower the eggs into a pan of boiling water. If you want soft boiled eggs leave for 6 minutes max and if you want hard leave them for 8 minutes.
  2. In another pan, heat the garlic confit oil and garlic in a pan. If you have not made a batch of garlic confit – do seriously – you won’t look back after you have made one batch. Otherwise use olive oil and some fresh garlic roughly chopped. Move around the pan for a few minutes.
  3. Add almost all the  ginger batons, spring onions and chilli (if adding) followed by the miso paste and light soy sauce. Move around the pan for 20 seconds and then add the boiling water. I never actually measure out the water so add a pint and if you think it needs more, which it may well do add a little more.
  4. Add the udon noodles and broccoli and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, spinach and leave for 1 minute before turning off the heat. Taste test the broth and add more miso paste, soy sauce, boiling water to your liking.
  6. Remove the eggs from the pan and run under cold water whilst you remove the shell – you will find it easier to remove the shell this way. Cut them in half lengthways.
  7. Ladle the broth and noodles into deep bowls then add a good handful of fresh coriander, the remaining fresh ginger batons and place the eggs on top. Sprinkle some Japanese togarashi on top.

I often like to add a little Sriracha on top.

So easy and great for lunch or supper whether you are on your own or with company.

Slurping compulsory. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Toasted Sourdough with Soft Goats Cheese, Fig, Hazelnut and Honey

Eating for one need not be boring or unexciting. Working from home does allow me to make something delicious at lunch time, instead of the rather insipid sandwiches that certain chains offer. For those who follow my instastories will know I regularly make speedy veggie miso broths, interesting healthy colourful salads and sometimes a Scandinavian open sandwich: known in Danish: smørrebrød, Norwegian: smørbrød, Swedish: smörgås or macka. You can get creative as you like but they always look and taste good. I adore sourdough and invariably always have some in the house, so making an interesting open sandwich is a win win.

A fridge staple for me is soft goats cheese. Even if you think you may dislike goats cheese try the soft variety as it is less strong, deliciously creamy and has a wonderful taste. We all love it in my family. I cut a couple of slices of sourdough and pop them under the grill for a couple of minutes until they are toasted to my liking. I then slather soft goats cheese on top, quarter some fresh figs, scatter some nuts – hazelnuts or walnuts work really well, and then drizzle some sweet honey. So simple and yet super satisfying. If I have any fresh mint in the fridge/garden (which I didn’t today) I would roughly chop some leaves and throw them on it too. You get salty flavours from the goats cheese working so well with the luscious, soft figs and the fragrant honey.

It’s also a great weekend lunch idea for the family or if you have some friends coming over. To make it more substantial you could make a soup – something like my pea and mint would work really well.

 

Toasted Sourdough with Soft Goats Cheese, Fig, Hazelnut and Honey

for one (increase proportions if you are feeding others)

2 pieces of sourdough bread, toasted

1-2 large figs quartered

1 tbsp soft goats cheese

1 tbsp hazelnuts/walnuts, roughly chopped

drizzle of honey on top

 

  1. Toast the sourdough on both sides under the grill, in a toaster or in a griddle pan.
  2. Slather goats cheese on top.
  3. Add the quartered figs and scatter the nuts.
  4. Top with fragrant honey.
  5. Devour.

 

So simple and yet deliciously effective.


Indian Panch Phoron Damson Achaar

After chatting on instagram with my friend Harriet, aka ‘The Nutritional Bean’ about damsons and what to do them – damson wine or chutney was my go-to response, my mother independently called me moments later to ask if I wanted any. Seeing it as a sign, I said yes and she arrived later that day with said damsons, as well as a bounty of other fruits and veg from the garden. Juicy sweet yellow plums, pears and some runner beans and tomatoes. The damsons were so ripe that they were about to turn and go off, so I felt an Indian achaar (chutney) would be a good way to work with them quickly. Indian achaar is different from those made with vinegar, which allows them to keep for a month or two. An achaar is often made and eaten on the same day with dal, rice and/or curry. Whatever fruit or vegetable that needs eating you can make into an achaar. This is my mango  achaar recipe.  They are always deliciously tangy, spicy, sweet and sour and work so well with Indian and Sri Lankan food.

The magic ingredient, which I have spoken about many times over the last nine years of writing this blog, is the Bengali five spice known as ‘panch phoron’. It is often used in achaar in West Bengal. You can either make your own – by reading this post – or you can pick up panch phoron at any Asian grocers and I have even seen some of the large supermarkets stock it. When it comes to de-stoning the damson you can either do it the long way (which was my option) by cutting it half and then scoping out the stone or invest in a cherry and olive pitter, which will also fit damsons. It’s definitely on my Christmas wish list.

 

Like all chutneys it does involve adding a good measure of sugar to counterbalance the acidity. As you will only be eating one or two spoonfuls per person per sitting, it ends up balancing itself out, but be aware that it does seem quite a lot at first glance. Taste test as you go and if you find your damsons are not too acidic then you can add less sugar.

Whilst you can eat the chutney with Indian snacks, curries or dal, the achaar also works really well with cheese. It lasts in the fridge for 3-4 days. Have you had any damsons this year? If so how are you using them? I would love to know.

 

Indian Panch Phoron Damson Achaar

Makes a small bowl full

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 small dried red chillies

1 tsp panch phoron/Bengali five spice

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

655g (or thereabouts) damsons, stone removed

2 tbsp raisins, optional

1 tsp grated ginger

3-4 tbsp sugar (you can use caster or brown)

salt, to taste

 

  1. In a deep pan heat the oil and then add the 2 dried chillies. Allow them to begin to darken – it may make you cough a little – this is normal.
  2. Next add the panch phoron (fenugreek, nigella, fennel, black mustard, cumin seeds) and allow them to begin to splutter.
  3. Next add the turmeric quickly followed by the damsons. Give a good stir then add the fresh ginger and raisins.
  4. Add the sugar, a little at a time and taste as you go. Depending on the acidity of the damsons depends on how much you will require.
  5. Allow to bubble away on a low heat for 15 minutes. Add a little salt if required.
  6. Allow to cool and serve with Indian food or cheese, it works really well with both – just probably not together.

 


Top Tips On Visiting Petra and a Recipe for Jordanian Shorba


View towards the Monastery and Umm Sayhoun in the distance

One of the (many) highlights of visiting Jordan is exploring the magnificent Nabataean red rose city of Petra, which is believed to have been established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. I thought it might be useful if I provide some helpful tips, which will hopefully make your visit to this UNESCO world heritage centre truly memorable. I visited in August, when it is searingly hot, but totally doable at the same time.

 First glimpse of The Treasury whilst waking down the Siq

When is the best time to visit Petra?

The cooler periods to visit Petra are autumn and spring when I hear the crowds are less heaving. We visited in August and didn’t come across any other British tourists in Petra, although it seemed to be very popular with the Italians and Spanish. Whatever time of year you visit the quietest time to explore Petra is as soon as the park opens at 6am and in the late evening 6-7pm. In the summer months it closes at 7pm and the winter at 4pm, but I don’t think they are too strict about this- we stumbled out just before 7pm and there were still a number of people we had passed going up to the High Place of Sacrifice as we were coming down. Although do bear in mind that once the sun sets it gets dark FAST and navigating getting out of Petra in the dark, without a torch could be rather tricky, although I guess it would make a good tale to tell the grandkids!

Even though there were lots of people mulling around by the Treasury when we first entered via the Siq, once you go further in, the crowds disperse and you are free to explore the caves and sites without huge swathes of people.

Having walked down the Siq you arrive at The Treasury

To Guide or Not to Guide?

Hiring a local Bedouin guide has it’s advantages if you want to hike some lesser known trails around Petra. Also it might be good to hire one for a few hours before breaking away on your own to explore. If you have a good guidebook, however, you can  read up about the various key sights while you are there. Everything is well signposted and you are provided with maps from the visitors centre at the entrance. The key places to visit are: the Siq (which you will walk along to actually enter Petra), The Treasury, Street of Facades and The Great Temple excavations undertaken by Brown University, Theatre, Royal Tombs, Colonnaded Street, The Monastery and the Place of High Sacrifice.

Tickets to enter Petra for one day are JD50 (£50/$70) for two days only 5JD more and three days 10JD more. Children under 15yrs old get in free. In hindsight I wish we had spent an extra day in Petra so we could explore more of the trails instead of walking 15 miles in one day.

Colannaded Street with local Bedouins on their donkeys

Donkeys, Camels, Mules and Horses

Local Bedouins are eager to offer tourists rides to and around Petra on their various beasts of burden. Whilst I realise this is an income for them and that most of the animals looked in fairly good condition, I passed up on their offer, preferring my own two feet to carry me everywhere. Climbing up to the Monastery were dozens of donkeys carrying weary walkers to the top. It’s steep and as a walker you need to be careful for fear of being knocked over the edge by the animals as they clamber with their heavy human loads. I almost saw one mule, carrying a tourist, go over the edge of a precipice. Coming down on the donkeys looked really precarious so I will leave it to you on what you decide. I think it’s an easy decision mind you!

Don’t let the bazaar vibes get you down

Most of the Bedouins living in Petra are from the B’doul tribe and many now live in the purpose-built settlement of Umm Sayhoun, which you can see in my first photo in the distance on the far right. Most work in the tourism industry working in hotels or camps or as horse riders, tour guides or souvenir sellers. One thing I noticed was the huge amount of souvenir sellers  all around Petra, all the way along the trails to the main sites. Whilst it does seem rather overrun with stalls, there are some good souvenirs to buy, many made by the local women, so its worth looking at what they have to offer. Remember it is not like shopping here in the UK. When they offer a price you need to haggle a little bit – it’s what they expect, so don’t agree with the first price.

Meeting Marguerite van Geldermalsen

One New Zealand tourist visiting Petra in 1978 fell for the charms of one of the souvenir-sellers – Mohammed Abdallah Othman and never left. She learned Arabic, converted to Islam and gave birth to three children, who are now all grown up. Mohammed has since past away sadly, but Marguerite still lives there. For seven years she made a home with him in a two thousand-year-old cave carved into the rock hillside, living like a Bedouin. Whilst she now lives in Umm Sayhoun, she can be found most days in Petra selling her memoir, sometimes with her grown-up daughter, as well as some beautiful jewellery that she has designed and made with the help of a local women’s co-operative. Her shop is very close to where her troglodyte dwelling used to be in fact.

Are Food, Water and Facilities Available in Petra?

Absolutely yes to all three. Deliciously cold bottled water is available all over Petra, although prices range on where you buy them. At the bottom of the hike to ‘The Monastery’ they were half the price to what they were at the top. The main restaurant in Petra is ‘The Basin’ and whilst it’s ok, I think opting for a packed lunch and sandwich is a better option. I didn’t really feel like eating that much in the heat, and besides I was there to explore and hike and not eat copious amounts of salads and hummus. You can pick up some snacks Wadi Musa – the town that has built up outside Petra, or get your hotel to make up a packed lunch for you. Another option is to pick up a fresh sandwich at ‘The Monastery’ with a cold orange juice when you get to the top.

You will also find Bedouin ladies making tea at a number of opportune places. In the late afternoon we climbed to ‘The Place of High Sacrifice’ where we had the place to ourselves. Then behind a rock we found the lady in the photo on the right beckoning us to have some tea and sit with her. At which point she got out her tin flute and played us a tune as we sipped our sweet tea and watched the sun reflect brilliantly over Petra. Hauntingly memorable.

Made it to The High Place of Sacrifice - incredible view from the top

 

Where to stay in Petra?

All the hotels and camps have been built in and around Wadi Musa, which has grown as the tourist industry has thrived. We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel, which is perfectly positioned at the entrance to Petra. The hotel would not win awards for architectural beauty from the outside, but inside is far more appealing than you would be led to believe, especially the atrium where you can linger over a cold drink and a good book. There is an outside pool, which was much needed after 10 hours on our feet and a great roof terrace where you can watch the sunset/rise. The rooms and bathrooms are a little dated, but the beds perfectly comfortable so overall the hotel was an excellent choice for our adventures in Petra.

Where to eat when you stay in Petra?

There are a number of restaurants in Wadi Musa all offering similar type dishes. We ate at a couple of restaurants – the best being ‘My Mom’s Recipe Restaurant’ which serves Jordanian fare in an atmospheric restaurant. It  is reached by climbing a couple of flights of stairs with rugs adorning the walls and ceilings. It was cosy and welcoming with good views of the nights sky and a local musician playing live music. I was also very impressed by the waitress who was Yemeni and spoke Arabic; English; Hindi and Filipino.

We also had an excellent buffet lunch at Al Qantarah where there was a wide selection of cold and hot dishes as well as some tasty falafels, which were freshly made.

I craved a hot soup (I know this may sound strange when it was mid 30’s outside), so ordered a local Jordanian favourite, Shorba, made of red split lentils, spices and lemon. It is similar to Indian dal, but with an Arabic twist.  I ate it quite a few times in Jordan so thought you would like the recipe too as it will be perfect for the months ahead.

Jordanian Shorba

serves 4-6

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cups of red split lentils, washed under cold water and strained a couple of times

2.5 litres of water

1 chicken/vegetable stock cube

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

 juice of one lemon, or to taste

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tsp salt

handful of fresh parsley, to serve

 

  1. In a deep pan heat the oil and add the onion, bay leaf and carrot and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for a further 2 minutes.
  2. Add the red split lentils and cover with the water and stock cube.
  3. Cook on a medium to low flame for 15 minutes, skimming any scum that may come to the surface.
  4. When it has softened, add the cumin and turmeric powders, lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and salt.
  5. Remove the bay leaf and then using a hand blender blitz the lentils so that they are smooth. You may need to add some more water if the soup is too thick.
  6. Taste test and add more salt/pepper/lemon juice as you see fit.
  7. Pour into bowls and add a little fresh parsley on top.

 

Exploring Little Petra - we pretty much had the place to ourselves

What is Little Petra?

Little Petra is about a 15 minute car ride from Wadi Musa. It is another archeological site located north of Petra. It is also Nabataean with buildings carved into the the sandstone walled canyon. It is thought to have been built to house visiting traders on the Silk Road – much like a caravanserai. It is free to visit and takes between 30 mins -1 hour to explore and there were only a handful of tourists when we visited. At the end of the canyon is a precarious climb to a view point with a souvenir seller at the top and a place to have some tea and cold drinks.

There are some other hikes, which start from Little Petra which take you further into the arid, mountainous desert region which look interesting if you have more time in the area. I would advise to get a guide if you want to venture further on this hike and make sure to carry lots of water and supplies as there will be no sellers offering food and beverages on the trail.

Local Bedouin man playing his Oud

Petra Night Tour – worth doing or not?

We did NOT do this ourselves, owing to the fact we were too shattered after our 15 mile hike around Petra and quite honestly could not face walking another 2.5km down the Siq and another 2.5km back in the dark.  Our legs had given up on us and we fancied a leisured evening and rest, before visiting Little Petra the next day. It also sounded a bit of a tourist trap if I’m honest and on Trip Advisor has mixed feedback. If you fancy giving it a whirl however, it happens on Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8.30pm when the tour walks from the visitors centre down the Siq to the Treasury. Apparently it is all lit up with candles and is very atmospheric, albeit you are witnessing this wondering with hundreds of other people. There are some locals playing instruments, some Arabic singing and story telling and tea drinking but apparently as there are so many people receiving tea is not guaranteed with that number of people. The whole experience lasts two hours and once the sun has gone down it gets cold, so bring sufficient clothes to keep yourself warm.

Tickets cost JD17 (£17/$24), children under 10 are free, and it last for a couple of hours.

 

Sitting with my back to the Royal Tombs overlooking the Street of Facades and Colonnaded Street