The Art of Parsi Cooking and Chicken Badami

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Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to the book launch of Niloufer Mavalvala’s new cookbook ‘The Art of Parsi Cooking’. To be honest, whilst I had clearly heard of parsi cooking, I was not very familiar with the minutiae of the cuisine. Her book focuses on ‘reviving an ancient cuisine’ which she has done by compiling a range of family loved recipes.

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Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Niloufer now resides in Canada and has done so for the past 15 years.  Her book gives a wonderful overview on the history of the Parsi people and their cuisine that they adapted to their local environs. Originally from Persia, Parsis were followers of the Prophet Zarathushtra. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, many fled Persia and headed for India, landing on the shores of Gujarat, where many of them settled. Interestingly the ‘Pars’ from Parsis means Iran. In many respects the cuisine is an amalgamation of Persian and Indian and does have a very distinct flavours. Niloufer talks about ingredients such as ‘saffron, jaggery, cider vinegar, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric’ are all key ingredients in Parsi cooking along side the trinity of garlic, ginger and chillies.

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I love to read cookery books were the recipes have been passed down generations, it’s as if we privy to the inner circles culinary magic. For years I have been after a good korma recipe that holds it’s weight amount curries. I have found them too creamy and often too bland. Niloufer has a wonderful recipe called ‘ Chicken Badami – Almond and Yoghurt Curry’ which will knock your socks off. If you want it less chilli hot then I recommend reducing or taking out the fresh chillies, but for me I like to have a bit of bite within the curry. The Parsi version of this recipe omits excess oil and instead uses ground almonds and yoghurt. It’s very straightforward and whilst mine is not as red in colour as Niloufer’s in the book, it tastes truly wonderful.

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Over the christmas period, many of us are with friends and family over the christmas week. Whilst I love all the traditional food, after about day 3 I crave spice and I think this might be a great one to feed your loved ones. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly as Niloufer uses cups for measurements and most recipes in the UK are in grams and I have added a few more tomatoes, despite mine still not being as red in colour as hers. Otherwise I have remained close to her recipe.

Her book is original, refreshing and lovingly compiled and would make a great gift for those seeking out Parsi recipes. It is fairly compact in size with no more than 40 recipes, but that is more than enough to provide interest and intrigue in the cuisine.  You can order it online here. It is published by Austin Macauley Publishers . Next up for me is masala na khekra – pan fried crabs with spices.

Chicken Badami

adapted from The Art of Parsi Cooking by Niloufer Mavalvala

Serves 6

2 tbsp oil

1 dried bay leaf

1 tsp of freshly grated garlic (paste)

1 tsp of freshly ground ginger (paste)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

10-12 chicken pieces, on the bone and skinned (I find thighs and legs work well)

3 medium sized tomatoes

4 green chillies

230 ml water

245g natural yoghurt with a pinch of salt and sugar

60g ground almonds

1/2 tsp garam masala

  1. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and place to one side.
  2. In a large deep pan add the oil, on a low heat,  and when it is hot add the bay leaf, ginger, garlic, salt, red chilli, cumin, coriander and turmeric powders and move around the pan and then add the chicken pieces. Continue to move around the pan at intervals so that the spices do not burn.
  3. In a blender add the tomatoes, green chillies and blend to form a smooth paste before adding a little water.
  4. Once the chicken has changed colour add the tomato, chilli paste along with the water and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on a medium heat for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes, by which time the chicken will have cooked through and the gravy will have thickened up and reduced. Niloufer recommends cooking until there is about 1 cup of gravy remaining or thereabouts.
  6. Let it cool completely.
  7. In a bowl mix the natural yoghurt with a pinch of salt and sugar as well as the ground almonds.
  8. Once the chicken has cooled add the natural yoghurt mixture.
  9. Gently reheat, sprinkle with garam masala powder and then serve. Serve naan alongside.

Book Review: Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

For those who are interested in wellbeing and the power of herbs (which I most certainly am) then the recently launched ‘Cleanse Nurture Restore with Herbal Tea’ by Sebastian Pole – founder of Pukka tea – will be a book that you will most definitely want to get your hands on. It’s also the prefect gift for those who have everything and you are at a complete loss on what to give them.

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

There is so much interesting information within its pages that you need to take time to drink it all in. In fact drinking one of their elixir might just be the perfect accompaniment. Pole talks about how in the past we would “live at the mercy of nature, the care and protection of our loved ones would be high up our to-do list. We would be dependent on the shamans, healers and wise women for talismans and incantations as well as herbal brews and poultices to help heal all manner of ills. And we would have to understand the natural world around us so that we could stay healthy”.

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

I think in the Western world today many of us have lost the interest and inclination to discover  the magical qualities of herbs and spices.  We are beginning to hear more and more about the health benefits of turmeric for example, but turmeric is one of thousands of herbs and spices that can help relieve pain and ailments.

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

I am always interested in reading about tribes in the Amazon rainforest staying fit and healthy by utilising the numerous herbs around them in the forest. We are definitely missing a trick not listening more closely to these so call ‘primitive’ tribes. In many respects they are far far more knowledgable about medicines – well herbal medicine at least – and staying well, than many of us who rely purely on antibiotics so sort us out. One wonders perhaps who is in fact the primitive ones!

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

Pole’s book is split into many chapters to help guide us through the world of herbs and their individual qualities. There are chapters titled: The language of herbs, The doctrine of signatures, The perfect blend, The art of making herbal tea, Helpful herbal terms. Later on in the book the chapters focus more on mood and wellbeing hence: Ailments & Elixirs, Cleanse & Detox (great one to focus on in January folks!!), Nourish & Digest, Energise & Rejuvenate, Peace & Harmony, Joy & Happiness, Defend & Protect and so forth. A further chapter talks about ‘ayurveda’ and ‘where do herbs come from’, as well as a useful chapter on ‘suppliers & practitioners’. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read, which will motivate even the most reluctant herbal tea drinker. Some drinks are hot whilst other ‘teas’ are cold. I opted for a cold one in fact to have at the beginning of my day.

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Cleanse, Nurture, Restore with Herbal Tea by Sebastian Pole, photography by Kim Lightbody. Published by Frances Lincoln (£20)

I decided to try out the ‘Nourishing almond saffron elixir’ – it is described as ‘Heaven in a glass. Golden, silken and sweet, it builds your brain and brawn’. Other than the soaking of the almonds overnight it takes minutes to prepare. I think ‘heaven in a glass’ might be pushing it just a touch, but it did taste rather good indeed and I will be making it again for sure. In fact I am keen to try ‘Elderberry & Echinacea winter warmer’ next as I can feel a chill in the air.

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Nourshing Almond Saffron Elixir

serves 1

10 almonds, soaked overnight

5 saffron strands

2 cardamom pods, seeds only

150ml water

honey to taste

  1. Soak the almonds overnight and in the morning remove the skins – back of teaspoon works well doing this (similar to how you would remove skin from fresh ginger).
  2. Put all the ingredients, aside from the honey into your blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Add honey to taste.

In the book, Pole goes into detail about the qualities of each of the ingredients listed so you will know what wonderful benefits it is giving your body.

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You can order your order our own copy here

Disclaimer: From time to time chilliandmint.com receives new cookbooks that are about to/have just launch. It is only those that she would actually recommend that make it onto the blog itself.  All opinions are her own. 


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.


Double Ginger Cake

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I am not a big baker. I leave that to the precision experts like my father. My kind of cooking tends to gravitate to more savoury, spiced and packed with flavour. That said I do like an uncomplicated sweet recipe or in this case a double ginger cake. I don’t have a kitchen aid or anything fancy, instead when I bake a cake I like to do everything in a bowl, ideally by hand or a hand whisk if necessary. I was browsing through Nigel Slater’s ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ the other day – great book if you haven’t got a copy, otherwise one for the christmas list – and his double ginger cake stood out for three reasons. One it was ginger – I love ginger, two – it looked quick and easy to make and three – it did not require any specialist equipment.

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My father’s belated birthday family lunch was the ideal excuse to try out Nigel’s recipe. After a long lingering lunch, cooked by my mother – parsnip soup for starters (above), followed by roast pork with fennel, finished off with blackberry and apple crumble, we donned winter coats and wellies and headed for the woods for a walk at dusk.

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Upon returning the feasting continued with my ginger cake (and a coffee cake that the birthday boy had made himself – just in case no one else had made him a cake) and tea. It got the thumbs up all round. The sponge was moist and deliciously gingery and as there was no sight of icing, it was not too saccharine sweet.

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Double Ginger Cake

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Double Ginger Cake from ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ 

Serves 10+

250g self-raising flour

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger powder

halt a tsp cinnamon powder

pinch of salt

200g golden syrup

2 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar

125g unsalted butter

3 lumps (about 53g) stem ginger in syrup, finely diced

2 tbsp sultanas (optional)

125g dark muscovado sugar

2 eggs

240ml milk

I used a 25cmx25cm tin (Nigel used one slightly smaller). I also think it would work well in a loaf tin.

  1. Line the tin with baking parchment and place to one side.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  3. Sift the flour, ginger powder, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and place to one side.
  4. In a pan heat the golden and ginger syrup along with the butter, keeping it on a low heat.
  5. Add the finely diced ginger, sultanas (if using) and sugar to the pan. Stir allowing the sugar to dissolve completely for a couple of minutes before gently pouring it into the bowl with the flour and stirring all together so that the flour has been absorbed into the hot syrupy butter.
  6. In a small bowl break the eggs and using a fork gently beat them. Add to the milk before adding that into the bowl with the mixture.
  7. Pour into the lined baking tin and place in the oven for 35 minutes. You want to be able to able to insert a skewer and for it to come out clean.

Leave in the tin to cool completely, unless you are wanting to eat immediately that is. You can wrap it in foil and eat over the next few days – Nigel mentions allowing it to mature for a day or two will enhance the flavour further. Thankfully there are leftovers so I will be having a square every day for the next few days.

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Baked Spiced Squash and Potato Samosa, Curry For Change Campaign and Wandsworth Radio

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I love it when friends bring edible gifts, especially ones they have been handmade or grown. The other day I was given this gorgeous blue looking squash that my pal had grown in her vegetable patch in the Cotswolds. We are not too sure what it is exactly but our guess is pointing us towards pumpkin invincible (we liked the name anyway). It looked beautiful, so I let it sit around in the kitchen for over a week for us all to admire. Part of me wanted to spray it silver or gold and have it sitting by the fireplace over the christmas season, but then again I knew it would be delicious as a lot of care and love had gone into growing it, it would be a shame not to eat it such a gorgeous gift.

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I broke into it yesterday – it definitely won top prize on ‘hardest squash to break into’. It’s flesh was bright orange with seeds slightly puffier than your regular pumpkins. I removed the skin from a quarter of it and then diced it up small. The rest I covered and placed in the fridge to use on another occasion.

A lovely idea would be to incorporate the squash into some gnocchi itself – you could use my recipe for gnocchi here or incorporate it with some store bought gnocchi here.

My plan was to use the filling for some spiced baked squash and potato samosas. I was going on to Wandsworth radio later in the day to talk to presenter, Emma Gordon aka Mrs Stylist, about the charity ‘Find Your Feet’ and their ‘Curry For Change’ campaign and hosting your own supper parties to help the charity. In addition the plan was to talk about alternative christmas snacks, so thought the samosas and my Indian tomato chutney were perfect for the occasion. You can hear the interview here if you fancy hearing me on the airwaves.

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For those keen to get involved in the campaign they are really having a push next week (21st November). The charity is all about helping those who live in rural communities in northern India, Nepal, Malawi and Zimbabwe to help them ‘find their feet’ – rather than simply giving handouts, through acquiring training and skills that can break the cycle of poverty by setting up their own business to allow them to feed themselves and their families. The idea is that we host supper parties. Natco and Kingfisher beer sponsor the whole campaign and will send those who sign up here a spice pack, which invariable includes lentils and other exciting goodies. Kingfisher will also send a crate of beer to  drink at the event. You ask diners to pay what they would ordinarily spend on a curry take out and the money then goes to ‘Find Your Feet’. Natco then double the amount you raise.  It’s a simple idea that is a win win for all involved. You don’t need to be a food blogger to take part. Everyone young and old can give it a whirl – even my mother has expressed an interest to take part. The curry for change website also has lots of inspiring recipes to help you plan your curry evening. You may even see one of two of mine listed on their site.

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Back to the spiced squash samosas.

The good thing about these snacks is that they can be prepared and then frozen, pre cooking, and then when you are ready to bake them you simply place them in the oven for 20 minutes from frozen. So simple. I often like to prepare a chutney to go along with a street food snacks, such as samosas. You can see my recipe for Indian spiced tomato chutney here. It is very quick to prepare and stores in the fridge for a couple of days.

Folding the samosas is easier than you think. Place the filling in the bottom right hand corner and then fold the pastry over so that a triangle forms. Then you fold the pastry up along the line before folding over to the left hand side, continuing with the triangle theme. Just keep in mind that you need to keep folding in alternative triangles and using water or ghee to stick the sides together. There are more photos showing how it is done on my post about ‘beetroot, feta and cumin samosas’ – see here. I like to sprinkle the samosas with nigella seeds, also known as black onion seeds, equally you could sprinkle sesame seeds or even chilli flakes.

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 Baked Spiced Squash and Potato 

Makes 20

700g squash/pumpkin of your choice, cut into small cubes

1 large potato (250g), cut into small cubes

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp nigella seeds

pinch of asafoetida/hing

1 onion, finely chopped

1 birds eye green chilli, finely sliced

1 tsp ginger paste

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin powder

100g frozen peas

2 packets of Jus Filo Sheets 270g each

2 tbsp melted ghee

  1. First place the cubed squash and potatoes in a pan with boiling water and let them soften, which will take around 10 minutes. If they are still a little hard, allow them to cook for a little longer. Strain and place to one side.
  2. In a separate wide pan add the oil and then add the mustard, cumin and nigella seeds followed by the asafoetida. Allow them to move around the pan for around 20 seconds before adding the onion.
  3. Allow the onion to soften for around 8 minutes, before adding the ginger paste and fresh chilli.
  4. Add the squash and potato and cover with the spices along with the cumin and turmeric powder.
  5. Using a fork or potato masher, gently squash the squash and potatoes. You don’t necessarily want it as smooth as mash, but certainly soften from it’s cubed form.
  6. Add the frozen peas and place a lid on the pan for a few minutes, adding a little water if it is becoming too dry. Take off the heat and leave to one side.
  7. Take the filo pastry out of its packet and using one sheet cut into in two horizontally. With the remaining filo pastry cover with a damp cloth.
  8. Working quickly you want to place a spoonful of the filling in the bottom right hand corner of the pastry (see photos). Place a little the melted ghee along the left hand edge of the pastry. Bring the bottom right hand corner of the pastry up to the right hand side at a diagonal to form a triangle (see photos above). Fold over from side to side until you reach the top. Stick the ends with melted ghee and either place on a plate to go into the freezer or one some greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Sprinkle with nigella or sesame seeds.
  9. Work your way through all the filling until it has all been used up. Freeze any left over filo pastry.
  10. If you are cooking immediately heat the oven to 180 degrees. Once the oven is hot place the samosas into the oven for 20 minutes – or until they are nicely bronzed.
  11. Eat when they are nice and hot with either a spiced tomato chutney or perhaps some tamarind and date chutney

If you host a curry for change dinner I would LOVE to hear about it. Take a photo and tag #chilliandmint and #curryforchange on twitter/instagram.

 


Hearty Venison Casserole with Star Anise, Nutmeg and Pink Peppercorns

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Our desire for comfort food begins to kick in around Autumn. For me this is a time to start cooking stews and casseroles – meals that are warming after a long walk in the fresh air. The game season is upon us so it is easy to pick up grouse, partridge, pheasant, snipe, rabbit and also venison. Game is extremely lean and surprising good value, so there tends not to be a week that goes by when my family do not eat some form of game over the Autumn/Winter months.  I’ll be putting up some more game recipes with a spiced twist over the coming weeks to give you some ideas on how to cook it.

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Unlike other game, venison doesn’t actually taste particularly ‘gamey’ and approximates beef. It is however far leaner and has more protein than any other red meat and is packed full of vitamin B’s.  So…

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Polenta with Cavolo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

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I stumbled across spaghetti squash the other day and thought it would be fun to create a recipe around it. Spaghetti squash lives up to it’s name in that once you have roasted it (I simply cut it in half length ways then added a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper) you use a fork to scoop out the flesh and it comes out looking like little spaghetti strands. You could easily substitute it for spaghetti in fact, although it tastes like squash and not pasta. Please note when you cut into the raw spaghetti squash it is slightly harder than your regular squash so do be careful when handling the knife.

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A great friend was coming over for lunch so I wanted to cook something straightforward, comforting and easy to assemble. The squash takes about 40 minutes in the oven, but does not need any attending to once it is in the oven. I opted for polenta (bramata) which takes a couple of minutes max to whip together. Any form of greens is always a great addition to any meal so I opted for cavolo nero, but you could easily use spinach, green cabbage, shard. I took a photo of all the ingredients but once I had thrown the dish together I realised it needed a splash of colour and one other flavour to bring it all together. So I opted for some sundried tomatoes, which completely lifted the whole dish. Also in my haste to photograph and then devour the meal, I completely forgot to place the crispy sage leaves on the top, so if you can try to remember to do this bit.

The dish came together so well and is perfect for this time of year, when the days are crisp and you come in from the cold. When you make the dish, photograph it and then use the #chilliandmint so I can see your efforts.

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Polenta with Cav0lo Nero, Spaghetti Squash, Parmesan and Sundried Tomatoes

serves 2

1 spaghetti squash, halved

500ml water

145g polenta bramata (course cornmeal)

45g parmesan, finely grated

25ml single cream (optional)

45g butter

4 cavolo nero leaves, finely chopped

salt

pepper

8 fresh sage leaves

3 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

  1. Carefully cut the squash in two and place on a baking tray with a little olive oil and seasoning. Place an oven at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
  2. Whilst the squash is in the oven, add a little olive oil to a pan and when it is hot add the sage leaves and allow to crisp up, which should take around a minute. Remove and place on kitchen paper.
  3. Wash the cavalo nero leaves and finely chop. Heat a pan and place them in the pan for a couple of minutes to allow them to wilt. Remove from the heat and place to one side.
  4. Once the squash is cooked (40 minutes) remove from an oven and using a fork take the flesh out of the squash. It will come away in strands giving it the name ‘spaghetti squash’.
  5. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and have the parmesan grated and ready to use.
  6. Boil the water in a deep pan and when it is boiling gradually pour in the polenta stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
  7. Immediately add the parmesan, single cream (if using), butter, salt pepper to taste and stir. *
  8. To plate up place a generous portion of polenta on a plate then add some cavolo nero and place it in the centre followed by the spaghetti squash, a little parmesan, sundried tomatoes and the crispy sage**.

 

* The longer you heat polenta the harder it will become so take off the heat at the consistency you desire. Personally I prefer my softer.

**After the excitement of platting up and photographing the dish I dived into eat it, only remembering once I had eaten it that I had forgotten to put on the crispy sage.

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Maharashtrian Stuffed Aubergines with Cashew, Coconut and Tamarind

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I’ve been having quite a number of requests recently for aubergine recipes. At my local Indian grocers they have the full range from the small round ones, which I used for this recipe, to the small finger looking ones, to the more regular sized ones that you find in your general supermarket.

As far as recipes go I have quite a few already on the blog so do check them out:

miso aubergines

fried indian aubergines

aubergine, pork and rice noodle salad

moussaka

red Thai tofu, aubergine and egg curry

Indian aubergine peanut and tomato curry

baba ganoush (one of my favourites)

soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango

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The one that I wanted to show you today is very similar to the Indian aubergine, peanut and tomato curry, however it uses small oval shaped aubergines that are easy to find at Indian grocers. It also uses cashew nuts, desiccated coconut and tamarind and does not include onion. This recipe is a traditional Maharashtrian dish often prepared over religious festivals. As diwali – the hindu festival of light – is fast approaching this coming Sunday 30th October I thought it was apt to show you how to make it.

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Do not be put off by the length of ingredients as it really is pretty easy to make.

Maharashtrian Stuffed Aubergines with Cashew, Coconut and Tamarind

serves 6-8 if serving with a couple of other dishes (reduce the amount of aubergines if serving a smaller number)

12-14 small oval aubergines – slit (but not all the way through) crossways

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 Kashmiri chilli powder

10 fresh curry leaves

pinch of asafoetida

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 tsp salt

150ml water

Paste

70g cashew nuts

2 tbsp white sesame seeds

3 tbsp desiccated coconut

2 tbsp coriander seeds

30g fresh coriander – leaves and stalks

1 tsp salt

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp jaggery/brown sugar

 

  1. First make cross incisions in all of the aubergines being careful not to cut all the way through. Place in a bowl of cold water with pinch of salt added.
  2. Next make the paste. First dry roast the cashew nuts and when they begin to brown very slightly add the sesame seeds and keep them moving around the pan for about 20 seconds before adding the coconut and stirring for a further 20 seconds. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding to your spice grinder along with the coriander seeds.
  3. As my spice grinder cannot take liquid I then move to my mini blender where I then add the fresh coriander, salt, tamarind paste, jaggery and a splash of water to loosen it slightly – although it is important it remains a paste as opposed to a runny liquid.
  4. You then want to stuff each of the aubergines with the paste and place to one side. If you have any paste left over this will go into the pan so also leave to one side
  5. Heat a deep pan and add the vegetable oil. When it is hot add the mustard and cumin seeds, followed by the asafoetida, curry leaves, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric powder. Move around the pan for 15 seconds before adding any leftover paste and the diced tomatoes. Keep on a gently heat for a couple of minutes before adding the aubergines.
  6. Add around 150ml of water – you can add more later if it becomes too thick and keep on a gentle simmer for 25 minutes with the lid on. Turn the aubergines over at intervals.
  7. Taste the sauce and add more water if too thick. Add more salt or jaggery if need be.
  8. Serve with a scattering of freshly cut coriander.

In Search of the Perfect Taco – California – part 1

img_2857fish taco from Mercado &Taqueria De Amigos, Pascadero

On a recent road trip to California a really old article from The New York Times, caught my attention. In short, the author, Cindy Price, went on a taco trawl from San Francisco to Los Angeles sampling the tacos on offer. This appealed to me on many levels. Whilst the article was old, I absorbed the information and decided that if we happened to be near any of the places she recommended we’d check them out – if they were still in business that is.

The first place we just ‘happened’ to be driving past was a stones throw from the legendary Highway 1. We’d spent the morning exploring the beaches of Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach, admiring the wild surf and trying in vain to spot a whale along the shoreline. There was a chill in the air and we were eager for some Mexican food to warm us up. California really does have many micro-climates and you only need to go a little inland and the chill from the coast dissipates.  Pescadero is a charming town so small that if you blink you’ll have passed it. There is a county store, a tea shop, a church, a bar and a couple of furniture shops and not much else. On the corner of the ‘main’ street is a garage with a small stores attached called Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos and it was here where we were assured we would find some good, honest Mexican food, and in particular tacos.

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img_2859Seeing local Mexican workers having their lunch at the tiny booths was a good sign. If it’s good enough for them then I knew I was onto a good thing. The setup was small, but the choices on offer definitely made my stomach begin to rumble.

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I first opted for the fish tacos, which had been recommended to me, my girls had chicken quesadillas (there were another couple of option boards not in photo above) and Mr B chose a burrito, as he likes something ‘more substantial’ and refried beans. As we made our way to our booth we passed the self service nacho bar accompanied by four red and green zingy and spicy salsas to choose from.

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We loaded up with our choices in little paper pots and after a short wait the food arrived.  The fish tacos were hot, freshly cooked and fragrant. I added a splash of salsa and dived in.

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There is no way to eat these in an elegant manner. You need to pick them up and disregard the looks of your dining companions as the juices dribble down your chin. Loose yourself in the moment people, seriously this is what eating is all about. If I hadn’t been so restrained I could have eaten them again and again and again, but ceviche tostadas were calling.

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The tostadas was crisp and held the ceviche in place until it reached my mouth. The zing from the lime, the creaminess of the avocado, the heat from the chilli and freshness from the fish, made this dish memorable. In fact even writing about it now is making me so hungry. Needless to say we totally loved this taqueria. It’s the type of place that you would typically drive by and never consider as a food destination, had you not been given the wink. It’s between San Francisco and Santa Cruz and is definitely worth stopping at. The portions are big and the food reasonable priced – even with our present exchange rate. Order a little and see how you get on. You can easily order more if you can squeeze in another taco or three.

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Combine it with a stop off at Harley Goat Farm, which is a few minutes drive away. Here you will be able to see a herd of about 200 goats and pick up some of their award winning goats cheese. I love the presentation of the cheeses above with their edible flowers and dried fruit. They also have a great selection of bath and body products made locally with their fresh goats milk. They also host lunches and dinners which you can attend, so check out their website for dates as these do get booked up.

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After you’ve tasted some cheese and patted some goats head back on Highway 1 and go south to Davenport where, just before entering the town, you will find Swanton Berry Farm. Here you can either go strawberry picking, jam tasting, relax over some tea and cake in their tea shop or simply pick up a jar of their delightful jams. You’ll even be able to pick up a jar of the olallieberrie jam, which I’d not come across before. Apparently olallieberries are a cross between the youngberry and the loganberry.

Before heading back to Portola Valley we couldn’t resist visiting the tasting room of Bonnie Doon, five minutes down the road in Davenport. We’d had their wines back in England and had enjoyed them immensely. The first thing you notice about them is their artistic labels which are painted by a wide range of artists.  Am sure many of my readers may recognise the labels? The friendly staff will guide you through a tasting of some of the wines, giving you an in depth overview of the wines themselves as well as the history and background of the vineyard.

Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach – Highway 1 near to Pascadero (take a jumper even in August)

Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos – Pascadero

Harley Goat Farm – Pascadero

Swanton Berry Farm – just before Davenport

Bonnie Doon Tasting Room  – Davenport (please note this is the tasting room only, not the vineyard itself)


Som Saa – restaurant review

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I am not going to beat around the bush. If you love spice and heat – and let me just stress the latter, HEAT – then stop what you are doing right now, make an excuse that you have to leave whatever you are doing and get yourself down to Spitalfields  – 43A Commercial Road to be precise. At this address you will find a little white sign with black writing on it with the words Som Saa. Go in and if you find yourself there at lunch time, you might just be lucky enough not to have a wait before being shown to your table.

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This Thai restaurant, opened earlier this year by ex Masterchef 2009 finalist Andy Oliver, Mark Dobbie, chef from now closed Michelin starred Nahm restaurant in Knightsbridge and Pok Pok in New York and front of house, Tom George, will more than knock your socks off. I had gone with really high expectations after hearing all the hype and had half expected them to be crushed after my visit. It’s normally the case when a play/book/film/restaurant get’s over hyped you feel a real crushing blow that it really wasn’t that good, but with Som Saa it is a whole different story.

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The seed for Som Saa was planted a couple of years back when they ran a pop-up (of the same name) at Climpson’s Arch in London Fields. This ran for a year and began to get so much of a cult following that leveraging into a permeant bricks and mortar site was an obvious transition. They had had the chance to try out a range of dishes on punters and had leaned valuable lessons on what worked and what needed to be fine tuned. They raised their capital through crowdfunding raising a staggering £700k in 4 days.

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They wanted their new residence to have the same feeling and vibe of the old Climpson’s Arch and although I did not get to experience it, looking at the architecture it has the exposed brick arches, rustic, tables chairs and flooring that I can only imagine is not too far removed from their pop-up days. There is a small window looking onto the kitchen itself, with incredible smells wafting it’s way around the restaurant.

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Similar to another recent great find – Gunpowder – Som Saa’s lunchtime menu is short but perfectly formed. I much prefer short menus as the offering is always far superior and the food far fresher. My companion and I opted for the following:

gung golae – grilled prawns in a southern style coconut marinade

som tam thai – Bangkok style green papaya salad with snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts and cherry tomatoes (they can make this vegetarian if you wish)

gaeng hung lay – Burmese style curry of pork belly and shoulder with pickled garlic and fresh ginger

gaeng baa pla – jungle curry with family fish, thai aubergines, holy basil and wild ginger

khao hom mali – jasmine rice

It’s no exaggeration that every dish was punch-the-air fabulous. Seriously they did not even slip up on one dish. Papaya salad is always a good indicator of whether the restaurant will be any good and even that was delicately balanced with the necessary zing and heat.

I loved the look of all the menu, but felt that this was more than enough for a midweek lunch. Apparently the evening offering offers a few extra dishes, but I would go back in a heart beat and eat the same again and perhaps alternate with a new dish on every visit. I skipped dessert, as I invariably do, but I have been reprimanded by one of my instagram followers who insist I am missing out and that I must ‘give them a try’. I also didn’t take advantage of the interesting cocktails – ‘day by the pool (yes please ;o) – prosecco, jasmine tea, gin, creme de violate, lemongrass cordial, but with school runs to rush too I really couldn’t.

Som Saa is a rare Thai citrus fruit that has, apparently, an incredible flavour and can be found in old Thai recipes. Thompson describes it as a “metaphor for the restaurant” in that he wants to “introduce diners to new tastes”. It is time to move on from the dumb down version of Thai food that we have all grown up with and to experience a more authentic Thai experience.

Som Saa

43A Commercial Street

Spitalfields

London

E1 6BD

lunch: tue-fri: 12-2.30pm

dinner: mon-sun: 5-late (last orders 10.30pm and 10pm on Sunday)