Fish Medley Chowder

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Pick up a paper or food magazine and the big topic for January always tends to be how to detox and various diets to go on to help shift the excesses of the Christmas season. We all start with good intentions but as the weeks of January roll into February the new exercise class or diet doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal in quite the same way.

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I tend to follow the old adage ‘everything in moderation’ and in January and February I do try to eat less meat, eat a lot of vegetables – especially greens, have a few vegetarian days per week and eat lots of fish. Exercise is important all year around and whilst I have been a little slack on this of late, other than great long walks over the Christmas hols most days, I will gradually get into it again once my daughters go back to school.

As I am still without a fridge  – the process of replacing my old (10 month old) one with AEG is painful to say the least, I have had to be well organised when it comes to feeding the troops. Thankfully my freezer – which is separate to the fridge – is working well and has been keeping us going with frozen fish.

For todays blog post I am going to share my fish medley chowder which is healthy, filling and a one pot meal to feed the family. They all love it and give it a big thumbs up.  I picked up a fresh fish mix – which is perfect for fish pie – in waitrose, which included Atlantic cod, smoked haddock and Atlantic salmon. It’s been sitting in the freezer ready for when I need to thaw it and cook. The fish was already cut to size so there really was minimum effort on my part. Give it a whirl. It is hassle free and whilst it is effectively a soup is substantial enough to be a whole meal.

Happy New Year to you all. I hope to put up lots of inspiring recipes over the course of this year for you all. Here is to happy, healthy eating.

Fish Medley Chowder

1 good slice of butter

1 leek

1 onion

small bunch of fresh thyme kept whole

2 bay leaves

1 large potato/2 medium size, cut into bite sized cubes

salt and pepper to taste

800ml milk

1 vegetable/fish stock cube

100ml boiling water

sweetcorn from one corn on the cob (frozen sweetcorn is also fine)

500g cubed smoked haddock, salmon, cod

handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

  1. Place the butter in the pan – I find my Le Creuset casserole pan works well – and when it is melted add the leeks, onions, thyme and bay leaves.
  2. After 4 minutes or so the leeks and onions will have softened and become more transparent. Add the cubed potato and a little salt and pepper to the pan.
  3. After a further couple of minutes add 500ml of milk along with the vegetable/fish stock cube and the boiling water.
  4. Cut the sweetcorn off the cob and add to the pan – frozen is fine, in which case throw in a couple of handfuls.
  5. Allow to simmer gently on a low heat for 10 minutes or until the potato has softened. Add the extra milk gradually over this time.
  6. Add the fish cubes to the pan. Do not move around the pan too much as you do not want them to break. Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes by which time the fish will be nicely cooked. Taste and season further if necessary.
  7. Remove the bay leaves and fresh thyme bunch from the pan before serving.
  8. Serve in deep bowls with fresh parsley scattered on top.

 

 

 


Tuscan White Bean Soup

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Many years ago we arrived in Tuscany at the dead of night to our rented farmhouse, which was nestled on its own down a very long track. We were tired and hungry and when we stumbled in we found a note scribbled on a piece of paper alluding to some supper on the stove. Wandering over to the hob we found a white bean soup waiting for us. It was hearty and warming with garlic and tomato undertones. I suppose it wasn’t dissimilar to a grown-ups version of baked beans.

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It was exactly the kind of comfort food we craved after a day of travelling. I never managed to get the exact recipe but have tried to replicate it as best I could ever since. I think this version works pretty well. I tend to always opt for white beans in a glass jar – this variety works for me and I pick it up at a local middle eastern grocers near me. Sometimes I add rosemary and other times not.

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Bay leaves though are essential and add a lovely flavour to the soup. I also prefer to use fresh tomatoes, but if you are out, tinned will suffice. The trick is to put it on a low heat for 30-40 minutes if you can. You want the garlic to be completely soft and the liquid to have reduced a fair amount.

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With all the excess that December will bring I thought this soup was a good one to throw into the mix.

Tuscan White Bean Soup 

serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil

9 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

650g fresh tomatoes, diced

2x400g jar of white beans

1 tsp tomato puree (optional)

300ml vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. Move around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the bay leaves and then add the fresh tomatoes.
  2. Allow the tomatoes to soften for a few minutes before adding the white beans.
  3. Add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper and leave on a low flame with the lid on, stirring from time to time.
  4. Remove the lid half way through cooking to allow the liquid to thicken. You can add more liquid if you prefer it more soupy. I tend to like mine thickish but still of soup consistency.
  5. When the garlic’s are soft and the liquid has been absorbed a little, turn off the heat and allow to rest.

This is great eaten the following day as well when the flavours have relaxed into one another.


Malaysian Inspired Street Food in the Heart of Soho – Sambal Shiok

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Soho, as a location, has always had a certain mystique and vibe completely unique to any other area in London. It’s bang central and could be described as the beating heart of touristy Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Regent Street and Oxford Street. The seediness that it had in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s has largely dissipated and now it is a magnet for those seeking to nourish their bellies and soul with memorable food, washed down with an ale or cocktail.

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Located on the corner of Beak Street and Great Pulteney Street – an intersection you’ll find at the end of London’s iconic Carnaby Street, you will find a pub by the name of ‘The Sun & 13 Cantons’. After a fire in late 1880’s, 13 Cantons was added to its name after its Swiss patrons who lived and worked as watch makers in the vicinity. Cantons, the Swiss word for counties, at the time had 12, but due to the Swiss community frequenting the pub it was charmingly given the name ’13 cantons’ as a tribute to it’s loyal customers.

The pub hosts culinary residencies, or extended pop-ups if you will, for 6 months plus, serving Indian/Asian inspired food at very affordable prices. Up until October they have ‘Sambal Shiok’ with chef Mandy Yin at the helm, tempting diners with addictively spicy Laksa Noodle Soups, Hainan Dumplings, Beef Rendang, Nasi Lemak or Malaysian Fried Chicken as well as a number of smaller starter dishes and sides. Yin grew up in Kuala Lumpur and after a two year stint feeding the masses at some of London’s markets, she made the transition to her own private residency at The Sun & 13 Cantons.

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I had been salivating over her Laksa noodle soups for quite some time, thanks to instagram, and with the interchangeable weather we have been having in the UK, I felt a strong need for something spicy and warming to give me that inner glow of happiness.

The pub itself was given a new lease of life in 2015 and today has Parisian inspired interiors with dark green leather banquette seating and different shades of green metro tiles and mirrors on the wall; all rather chic indeed. After deliberating on which laksa to choose I decided upon the spicy prawn and tofu. I am often suspicious when restaurants say something is spicy as they are invariably ‘Western spicy’ as opposed to properly spicy, but this laksa is dance about, super spicy. I loved it. My lunching companion, who I discovered whilst ordering is not so in favour of spice, opted for the Hainan dumplings and fried chicken with a tasty peanut satay on the side. Chicken portions were generous and more conservatively spiced, which appealed to my companion. It’s not often I get to eat fried chicken, although I do recall rather loving KFC as a child, but this fried chicken was lip-smackingly good.

Would I return, hell yes, I’ll be found slurping the laksa from time to time until the next residency starts in October.

Sambal Shiok
The Sun & 13 Cantons
21 Great Pulteney Street
London
W1F 9NG
Tel020 7734 0934

lunch 12pm to 3pm Tuesdays to Saturdays

dinner 5.30pm to 9pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

On Thursday and Friday evenings Sambal Shiok’s simpler street food menu will be available on a no reservations basis. Takeaways will be available at all times. Last orders will be at 2.30 and 9pm for each session.


Wild Garlic, Courgette and Lemon Soup with Poached Egg and Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs

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At this time of year British woodlands are filled with carpets of bluebells and wild garlic. The fragrant smell from the purply-blue tinged bluebells is absolutely heavenly, it genuinely makes me happy to stroll through a wood filled with these gorgeous flowers. In addition there is always a certain excitement when the overwhelmingly pungent smell of  wild garlic hits you. To me it translates as FOOD or rather free food. Foraging for it is pretty easy and like all foraging there is a wonderful sense of achievement in having found something to eat.

The broad elliptical leaves (see bottom photo) are similar to the toxic lily of the valley, however, the smell is so screamingly obvious I think it would be pretty difficult to get it wrong.  If you are unsure about foraging wild garlic you might like to check out the Royal Horticultural Society guide on how to recognise it – see here. Wild garlic is from the allium family and is also known as ramps, ramsons, wood garlic, bear’s garlic, devil’s posy, onion flower and stink plant.  It can first be seen in April where there will only be a few white flowers, most will still be in bud form. The white flowers are edible and are a nice adornment on the plate so make sure to pick a few of them as well if you can. By June the harvest will be over, so you still have a few weeks window left to go searching.

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My mother kindly gathered a large bag of wild garlic from the woods – slightly larger than I had anticipated –  so I have enough wild garlic to eat it in all it’s guises for sometime.

For those who have not eaten it before it has a lovely – you guessed it – garlicky taste although less full on surprisingly than regular garlic. There are resemblances of chives and spring onions to the taste, but with a unique quality that is completely it’s own.  It wilts just like spinach when exposed to heat, so a large amount can reduce quite substantially.

I have another wild garlic recipe up my sleeve that I will post next week but in the meantime try making my recipe below, which is a lovely lunchtime treat.

If you are into foraging you might also like to take a look at my post on foraging for cockles and samphire.

Wild Garlic, Courgette and Lemon Soup with Poached Egg and Crispy Panko Breadcrumbs

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small white onion, finely diced

4 courgettes, roughly chopped

1/2 lemon zest and juice

1 large handful of wild garlic, washed thoroughly

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp panko/sourdough breadcrumbs

1 tsp white wine vinegar

4 eggs

drizzle of lemon olive oil

  1. In a large deep pan heat the olive oil and then add the onion and move around the pan at intervals for  3-4 minutes before adding the courgettes.
  2. Add the lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and stir into the ingredients and simmer for a couple of minutes, before adding water to cover the vegetables and bring to the boil and then simmer gently for a further 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the wild garlic, which will wilt, like spinach, immediately.
  4. Blend the ingredients until smooth. Add more water, depending on how thick or watery you like your soups. Leave to one side.
  5. Place the panko/sourdough breadcrumbs in a frying pan and add a dash of olive oil and move around the pan for a couple of minutes to allow the breadcrumbs to bronze slightly. Keep your eyes on them as they will bronze quickly.
  6. In a separate pan bring water to the boil and add one tsp of white wine vinegar. Stir it with a spoon in the centre so that a small whirl pool is created. Drop the egg into the water and allow to simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. If you leave it for over 3 minutes the egg with harden. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next egg.

To serve, place a ladle or two into a soup bowl and then add the poached egg, a sprinkling of panic breadcrumbs and then drizzle some olive oil or if you have it some lemon infused olive oil. If you have any wild garlic flowers you can place one on top of the soup.

Have a good weekend. It’s going to be a scorcher.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

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There is nothing more sublime than a spicy hot tomato soup to warm you up and give you that inner glow. If you are feeling under the weather with a cold or fever, which invariably many of us do at this time of year, this is a great way to blast your system with goodness and help pull you through. Rasam, as it is known in South India, translates to ‘juice’ or in Sanskrit rasa means ‘taste’. I think ‘tasty juice’ is the perfect way to describe this warming, fragrant and flavoursome soup. Traditionally it is made with tomatoes or tamarind with a host of spices and fresh curry leaves giving it a comforting aroma and taste.  Being totally addicted to tomatoes I tend to make my rasam with tomatoes as the base note.

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Traditionally it is eaten in India at the end of a meal, but I tend to serve it the opposite way round and kick a meal off with a warming cup of this thin spiced tomato soup to whet the taste buds. It is often served in a mug or cup or can be poured over a bowl of hot steaming basmati rice. It’s also the perfect drink after a long, cold and invariably wet winter walk. With a roaring fire going and a cup of rasam you will feel a state of happiness surround you. Seriously try it and you’ll know what I mean.

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The only tricky (ish) ingredient to source is fresh curry leaves. If you go to your local Asian grocer they are likely to have some, or at least will be able to point you in the right direction. So what are you waiting for – give it a go and leave and comment below to let me know how you get on.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste/fresh garlic grated

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste/fresh ginger grated

2 large dried red chillies (1 if you prefer it with less of a kick)

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

700g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

350ml water

a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish

black pepper to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a deep non-stick pan and when it is hot add the garlic, ginger, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and crushed black pepper and gently move around the pan so that the chillies darken and the ginger and garlic begin to bronze. Keep on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar.

2. Move around the pan so that the tomatoes begin to soften and are completely covered in all of the ingredients. Then add the water and let it boil for a couple of minutes before lowering the heat and cover for 30 mins.

3. Using a hand blender blend the soup so that it is smooth and then pass through a sieve so that there are no pips or tomato skin and what remains is brilliant red, smooth thin rasam. Heat up the smooth rasam gently in the pan before serving.

4. Pour into cups and garnish with some fresh coriander and black pepper.

 

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Gujarati Kadhi – a delicately spiced yogurt soup

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It is bucketing down outside this afternoon and I am feeling rather cosy inside out of the rain. After taking the photos for this blog post I had a bowl full of this hot, delicately spiced warming soup. Seriously delicious and quite filling, owing to the yogurt, potatoes and mooli.  Now that Autumn is well and truly here this soup comes into its own and I urge you to try making yourself some.

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It was Durga Puja last weekend – you can read up what goes on exactly at this Indian celebration in my posts from last year and the year before  see here and here. During the festivities at the Hindu temple prasad is often taken. Prasad is literally a religious offering or gift that comes in the form of a meal. Always vegetarian and gently spiced it allows families and friends to come together to share a meal that is blessed during this auspicious occasion. One of the curries we were served was this Gujarati Kadhi. I adored the delicately spiced yogurt soup so much so I was allowed to venture into the kitchens to see how it was being prepared. Huge caldrons of the soup were being constantly stirred over hot stoves before being taken out to hungry worshippers.

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I’ve made my own additions and twists but the taste is pretty similar to the one that I had last weekend. It is so different from any soup or dal I have tried before that it immediately appealed. All the ingredients are pretty easy to pick up at your local supermarket. I have seen gram flour in the big supermarkets here in the UK and I noticed that Waitrose was even selling fresh curry leaves the other day. Times are changing!  Mooli is harder to track down if you don’t live near an Asian grocers so just omit that part if you can’t find it. As with most of my recipes it is quick and easy so if you are feeling adventurous then give this fabulous dish a try.

 

 

Gujarati Kadhi

Serves 4-6

500g natural yogurt

2 tbsp gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 tsp green chilli paste

1/2 tsp ginger paste

700ml water

1 tsp salt

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1 tbsp ghee/butter

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

3 cloves

2 small cinnamon sticks

2 dried red chillies, broken into pieces

10 fresh curry leaves

pinch of asafoetida

75g mooli (also known as daikon or white radish)/, cut into thin matchsticks

1 small potato, cut into thin matchsticks

1 tsp jaggery/sugar

1. In a large bowl mix the yogurt, gram flour, green chilli and ginger paste, salt and water using a hand whisk.

2. In a deep saucepan add the ghee and when it is melted add the mustard and cumin seeds and after 30 seconds add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and asafoetida. This is known as tempering.

3. Add the mooli and potato matchsticks and stir into the spices for one minute.

4. Gently pour in the yogurt/gram flour mixture over the potato, mooli and tempering spices and stir continuously to prevent the yogurt from separating.

5. If you find the mixture too thick simply add a little more water.

6. Add the jaggery or sugar if you don’t have any jaggery to hand. Stir into the soup. Simmer for  around 15 minutes or until the potato and mooli matchsticks are softened.

Serve with basmati rice or simply on its own in a bowl.

 

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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Panch Phoron – Bengali Five Spice and Red Split Lentil Dal

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From top right going clockwise: fenugreek, nigella, fennel, black mustard, cumin seeds

We’ve all heard, and no doubt use, Chinese Five Spice, but the Indian equivalent, Panch Phoron, for some reason is not given as much PR and voice in the West and yet across Bengal, it is a spice mix that is commonly used in every home and very much cherished.

When I launched my blog way back in 2011 one of the first recipes that I posted was my absolute comfort food – red split lentil dal. I cook it often as it is ridiculously easy and provides me with a quick-fix nourishing meal. You can choose whatever vegetable, if any, you need to use up, giving the dal a different twist every time you prepare it. A key seasoning to the dal, which imparts the unmistakable flavour, is panch phoron and whilst I am able to source it from a local Indian supermarket, I know that for some people getting their hands on this magic ingredient could be harder.

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So I wanted to show you how to make your own panch poron. Panch in Bengali is five and phoron is spices and these five spices are: nigella seeds (other wise known as black onion seeds, Kalonji or kalo jeera), fennel seeds (mouri or saunf), fenugreek seeds (methi), black (brown or yellow) mustard seeds (rai) and cumin seeds (jeera). The aromatic spices working together provide a  considerable depth of flavour to any dish and especially to dal.

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Unlike most spice mixes these are not ground to a powder but are cooked whole, either dry roasted in pan or placed in a little oil until they begin to pop and release their flavours – this is known as tempering. There are significant health benefits from eating the spices. In short: cumin aids digestion, fennel contains vitamin a, e and c as well as anti-oxidants, fenugreek aids metabolism, mustard seeds contains omega 3 fatty acids as well as being a good source of selenium and magnesium, nigella seeds balance the hormonal system and have healing qualities.

They store for months in an air tight container so if you make up a batch that should last you for some time as you only need a teaspoon or two every time you use it in a dish.

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There are a couple of lentils that do not require soaking over night and take a very short time to cook. Masoor dal or red split lentils, as they are more commonly known, are a staple in my store cupboard. From cleaning thoroughly to cooking, the dal takes no longer than 20 minutes to prepare – and that’s being generous – on average it’s a 15 minute meal to prepare and cook. Oooh Jamie Oliver would be so proud!

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Red split lentils are also very reasonable to buy so all in all this dish is healthy, speedy and economically friendly. A win win surely!

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I eat this dish all year round and like to change the consistency from a more runny, soupy dish to a thicker dal that may be eaten the Indian way, with your hands, accompanied by some rice or naan.  When the months turn colder I tend to gravitate more and more towards dals and soups to warm me up so this really is the perfect autumn meal to give me that inner glow.

Panch Phoron – Bengali Five Spice

Makes enough to last you for months

3 tbsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp fenugreek seeds

3 tbsp mustard seeds (I tend to use black, but brown/yellow is also fine)

3 tbsp nigella seeds (black onion seeds)

1. In a bowl mix all the seeds together thoroughly and place in an air tight container.

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Red Split Lentil Dal

Serves 2

200g red split lentils (masoor dal)

500ml of water, add more if you would like it a thiner consistency

1 tbsp oil (mustard,vegetable or sun flower oil)

1.5 tsp panch phoron

2 fresh chilli (red or green), chopped in half

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

optional

5 cherry tomatoes (or carrots, courgette, marrow, peas etc)

fresh coriander, to serve

lemon wedge, to serve

1. Boil the kettle and meanwhile rinse the red split lentils under the tap so as to fully clean them. Then place the boiling water in the pan with the lentils. Boil for about 10 minutes on a low heat, the lentils will become less orange in colour during the boiling.  If you are going to add a carrot you need to add it to the lentils at this stage so that they are soft in time. Please note you may need to add more water if the water is completely soaked up by the lentils.

2. In a frying pan warm the oil and when it is hot add the panch phoron, fresh chilli and turmeric. Once the panch phoron begins to pop and release the flavours – this will be around 15 seconds, give it a quick stir and then add a ladleful of the watery dal into the frying pan and mix the ingredients together.

3. Now place the contents of the frying pan back into the main pot with the red split lentil and stir.

4. Add the quartered tomatoes (or peas, courgette, marrow, spinach) at this stage and simmer gently for a few minutes.  Add salt to taste.  If you want it more soupy, add more water and if you want it thicker, let it simmer for longer.


Mexican Tortilla Soup

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It’s been half term this week so until now I ‘ve not had a second to sit down and actually write a blog post. I had wanted to put up one of my ‘en papillote’ recipes, but although I ended up eating three fish meals ‘en papillote’  this week each time it was in the evening and by the time the little parcels of deliciousness came out of the oven the lighting was frankly too dark to get a good shot. Lightening or rather natural lightening is key to good food photography and whilst I am still learning I feel it is important to heed this one basic rule. When I started food blogging two years ago, virtually to the day, my food photography was pretty appalling and whilst I have not got to where I want to be quite yet, it has at least improved. This shot was taken at night and I look back at it now and cringe – in fact I think I may even re blog the recipe – Chilli Crab Linguini – with more appealing photographs as the recipe is a keeper and perfect for a midweek supper.

Anyway I digress, the recipe for today’s blog is straightforward and perfect for a light lunch. It uses a spoonful of the chipotle sauce that I blogged about a couple of months ago – hands up whose attempted to make it? I made another batch of 7 pots the other day as all the others had finished. By all means buy a ready made chipotle sauce but if you have a little bit of time (it really does not take long) I really urge you to try making your own chipotle sauce – recipe here.  The chipotle gives the soup an earthy, delicately spiced flavour – for those who have not tried chipotle chillies before they are NOT ‘blow your mind’ type of chillies but more of a smokey, gently spiced chilli that keeps you coming back for more. My seven year old loves the soup and does not find it too spicy for her palate.

Mexican Tortilla Soup

adapted from Thomasina Miers – Mexican Food Made Simple

Serves 6

4 tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 corn tortilla, broken up

1 tbsp of chipotle sauce

2 (400g) tins of tomatoes

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp fresh oregano (or dried)

1.5 litres chicken/vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

Garnish

2 corn tortillas, chopped into 1 inch strips

vegetable oil, for frying

4 pasilla dried chillies, deseeded and stems removed (or you could use ancho)

100g feta cheese, crumbled

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

half a lime per serving

(You can also add avocado and sour cream although I omitted them for this shoot)

1. In a large pan – I find my large casserole Le Creuset pot is perfect for this – add the olive oil and when it is hot add the onion and gently cook for around 10 minutes before adding the garlic and the broken up corn tortilla. Leave these three ingredients to cook for another five minutes.

2. Now add the chipotle sauce, brown sugar, tinned tomatoes, oregano and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Leave to cook for another 10 minutes before adding the stock and simmering for a further 10 minutes.

 3. Using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth and then let to simmer gently for a few more minutes.

4. While the soup is simmering, place the pasilla chilles in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes and then remove the stems and deseed. Pat dry with kitchen paper.

5. Heat up some vegetable oil in a small pan. You want to make sure that there is enough vegetable oil so that the tortilla will float on the top. I find that 200ml is more than enough – (you can reuse this oil fyi!). When it is hot and small bubbles are rising to the surface, gently add the strips of corn tortilla. They will sizzle immediately and begin to bronze quickly so move them around the pan for a few seconds so that they are bronzed all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper before transferring to a bowl.

6. Delicately place the chillies in the remaining oil. If they are still wet at all they will spit so be vigilant when placing them in the oil. Move them around in the oil for a few seconds then also place on kitchen paper. Chop up into bite sized portions and place into a bowl.

7. Crumble the feta, roughly chop the coriander and half the limes. (if you are using avocado – chop this is up into small cubes). Place in bowls on the table so that the hungry masses can add whichever garnish they wish to their Mexican tortilla soup.

Also if you are using sour cream, place in a bowl so those who wish can an add a dollop to their soup. I had this all ready and then forgot to photograph the sour cream on the soup as well. A case of being hungry so quickly wanting to photograph the soup and then eat with the rest of the family!


Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup and finding the perfect cooking course in Hoi An

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Vietnamese cuisine is to put it simply, ‘heavenly’. After my first bite of a Banh Mi, from Banh Min 11, back in London, not that long ago, I knew that it was going to be a culinary love affair. Since arriving in the motherland it has not disappointed. Each meal we have eaten has been a multitude of delicate, fragrant flavours – spices that sing to you and dance on your tongue.

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Herbs feature heavily in most dishes and add real fragrant lift. I was sufficiently enthused that I am going to attempt to grow some of them back in London – for example Vietnamese mint (which I should have no problems growing!), Vietnamese basil, saw tooth coriander, Vietnamese lemon balm, garlic chives. There is a great explanation of Vietnamese herbs here.

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I was keen to attend a cooking course in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An and so set about researching a course that best suited my needs. I was given a few recommendations, however, I decided that a course run by the very affable Van, who runs ‘Green Bamboo Cooking School’ suited my needs perfectly.

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The course run by Van offered a detailed tour of the fresh food markets, where we picked up our ingredients; convivial fellow pupils; personal touches by Van who runs the course in her own home; unhurried tutoring over seven hours; a generous range of recipes manifesting itself in a memorable group lunch and a souvenir goodie bag to take home. Throw in door to door service as Van kindly ferried us to and from our hotels, and it is no surprise that Trip Advisor has over 210 positive comments for this class with no dissenters.

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I am pleased to say that course surpassed even my high expectations. Van was charming, spoke excellent English and a was a natural teacher. She also converted me to Vietnamese coffee – the condensed milk being the key.

My fellow students were a really lovely bunch of enthusiastic foodies – three Australians, two Norwegians and two Swiss and all of us had huge grins on our faces all day, clearly revelling in the fact that we had chosen such a perfect course. Here are few photos of the day. Scroll down.

I elected to cook the unofficial national dish of Vietnam – pho bo, beef noodle soup (pronounced ‘fur’). You can find pho stalls on most streets in Vietnam, but to cook it well is the tricky part. I was keen to understand how to cook it from scratch and to make that perfect pho broth. First stop was the market to buy the beef, which was as fresh as it gets as the cow had been slaughtered that very morning. We bought the beef fillet and 1kg of beef bones. Normally Van would have bought the spine, but there had been a run on spine bones that morning from a hotel restaurant, which had bought the lot. So instead we had a range of other beef bones and some shin to add to the flavour.

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Back at Van’s house the first trick I learnt was to gently char the skin of some ginger, shallots and garlic over a flame as this would give the broth a deep smokey flavour.

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It takes no more than a couple of minutes on each side.

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I then removed most of the skin of the ginger, using that back of a teaspoon and also the skin from the shallots and garlic, which is very easy at this stage as they virtually pop out.

After properly cleaning the beef bones, place them in a large pan of boiling water so as to get rid of any scum from the bones before cooking. Submerge them in boiling water for under a minute and then place them into a second large saucepan, which has also has boiling water in it. Discard the water from the first saucepan. You then need to add the charred ginger, garlic and shallots

Continue to add the following ingredients to the pan: 2 chillies, stick of cinnamon, 1 large white onion, 5 star anise, 5 Chinese apples. I had not come across Chinese apples before, but they tasted delicious. As they may be difficult to source for some people, dates work equally well. Add some sugar and salt and if you fancy, some beef stock as well (I decided to omit the beef stock, to see how it would taste in its natural state).

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Place a lid on the top and leave to boil away gently for a further 2 to 3 hours. Add more seasoning to taste and beef stock if necessary.

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Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

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Before serving have individual bowls of bean sprouts and fresh pho noodles/rice noodles, (the noodles you have submerged into boiling water for 30 seconds and drained) at the ready. In a large ladle add a little of the raw beef and submerge it into the pho broth so that the broth fills the ladle. Using a fork or chop sticks, move the beef around in the boiling stock in your ladle for 30 seconds (that magic number) so that it cooks through and ladle it over one of the bowls of noodles that you have prepared.

Add a generous amount of fresh herbs, including Asian basil, coriander, spring onions along with a quarter of a lime and chilli sauce to taste. You can also have a small bowl of soy sauce on the side, should you wish to add a little, as well as some sliced green papaya and fresh sliced chilli.

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I was delighted by the results and despite having eaten a ridiculous amount of the tastiest Vietnamese food, cooked by my fellow foodies, I managed to see off a bowl of my pho bo.

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Eight happy and well fed people were then deposited back to their hotels, along with a goodie bag provided by Van.

I hope that you too will try this tasty version of pho. Watch this space for more Vietnamese recipes over the coming months.

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Adapted from Van’s recipe, who runs Green Bamboo Cooking School

Serves at least 8

500g fresh pho noodles/rice noodles

300g beef fillet

1 kg beef bones – ideally spine bones or shin

5 litres boiling water

1 tbsp beef stock

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5 star anise

1 large stick of cinnamon

1 roasted fresh ginger

5 roasted shallots

1 large roasted bulb of garlic

5 dried Chinese apples/dates

1 whole white onion, peeled

2 red chillies, left whole or chopped in two

2 tsp salt and pepper

1 tbsp raw sugar

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50g fresh bean sprouts

50g fresh Asian basil

50g fresh coriander

50g spring onion, finely sliced

2 limes, cut into quarters

green papaya, finely sliced

chilli paste to taste

soy sauce, to taste (optional)

2 fresh chillies, sliced (optional)

1. Wash the beef bones under a tap and then place to one side. Meanwhile bring two large pans of water to the boil. In the first add the beef bones and submerge them for just under a minute and then transfer them to the second saucepan. Discard the water from the first saucepan.

2. Over a gas flame place the garlic, shallots and ginger on a metal grill directly above the flame, allowing them to char/roast. After a couple of minutes turn them over so that both sides are equally charred. Using the back of a teaspoon, peel off a little of the skin of the ginger.

3. Add them to the bones and boiling water, along with the onion, chillies, dried Chinese apples/dates, cinnamon stick and star anise. Add the salt, sugar, pepper and beef stock it you wish and place a lid on the pan and let  it boil gently for 2-3 hours.

4. Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and return it to the fridge.

5. Before serving, warm the noodles by placing them on a slotted spoon and submerging them in boling water for 30 seconds. Drain and place in individual bowls. Add the bean sprouts to each of the bowls.

6. In a large ladle add a little of the thinly sliced beef fillet and submerge into the pho broth so that the ladle is completely full and the beef is submerged. With a fork or chop sticks move the beef around in the ladle so that it ‘cooks’ through properly.  Pour over the noodles. Please note the pho broth needs to be boiling/bubbling away at this stage so that the beef fillet is cooked properly. 

7. Add the fresh herbs, lime, spring onions, green papaya and chilli paste/soy sauce/fresh chillies to taste.

8. Serve immediately and enjoy piping hot.