Spiced Pilau Rice

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As winter is officially here and the nights are drawing in so our diet begins to crave more hearty filling food. Stew and warming curries get given centre stage during the winter months, well at least they do in my household. I realise that I have never posted a pilau rice dish, which would be a great accompaniment with a wide range of curries. Plain basmati rice is all very well but if you delicately spice it and accompany it with some nuts or fruit, it just adds a lovely new fragrant dimension to the meal and really only takes a couple of extra minutes to prepare.

I find my spiced pilau rice is really versatile as it works equally well with Middle Eastern dishes as well as Indian curries.

 

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The three C’s are wonderful spices: cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick and give a warming aroma to any dish. I also have a particular weakness for cardamom in sweet dishes, but that’s for another post. Star anise not only looks inviting but also has a delicate aniseed smell and taste and is used a lot in Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. The queen of spices is saffron – one of the most expensive so it is used sparingly, hence only a pinch used in this dish. If you do not have saffron you could use a generous pinch of ground turmeric instead, which will give a yellow hue.

 

 

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I used blanched almonds this time, but depending on what is in my cupboard I may use cashew nuts or even unsalted peanuts. If you are serving a more Middle Eastern dish then pistachio nuts would also work really well.

Let me know how you get on. Send me a photo of your dish and accompanying curry to my twitter account and I will retweet it to all my followers. Is there any particular pilau rice that you make at home? How does if differ to my spiced pilau?

 

 

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Spiced Pilau Rice

serves 4

1/2 tbsp ghee/butter

7cm cinnamon stick, broken in two

2 star anise

4 cardamom pods, slightly opened

3 cloves

190g basmati rice (Approx one handful per person)

350ml cold water

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp hot milk

1 large pinch of saffron (or ground turmeric)

1 tsbp rose water

2 tbsp blanched almonds or cashew nuts

1. First rinse the rice a couple of times with cold water so that the water runs clear and not cloudy. Drain and set aside. If you have time then soak the rice in cold water for 10 minutes then drain.

2. Heat the milk and then place the saffron in the milk. Give a good stir. Leave to soak whilst you prepare the rice.

3. In a pan heat the ghee or butter and when it is melted add the star anise, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle away for half a minute, before adding the drained rice and salt and stirring together. Add the cold water. As a rule I always make sure that the water is about 1/3 of your smallest finger above the rice. Stir and then let the rice come to the boil which will take a couple of minutes.

4. Once it has come to the boil, turn the heat down and place the lid on the pan. Let the rice gently cook and steam away for 8 minutes. By this time small holes will have appeared in the top of the rice. Turn the heat off and leave the lid on the rice so that it can steam for a further 10 minutes.

5. In a small frying pan dry roast the blanched almonds or cashew nuts for a couple of minutes so that they begin to bronze.

6. Place the saffron milk and rose water over the rice and then gently fluff it up with a fork.

7. Scatter over a platter with the nuts over the top.

Serve with any Indian dal, vegetable, meat or fish curry. It also works really well with Middle Eastern meat or fish dishes.

 

 

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Zereshk Polow – Iranian Chicken with Barberries and Rice

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Fairly recently I picked up a bag of dried barberries (also known as Zereshk or Pipperages) in one of my local Middle Eastern food stores. I do tend to like fruits in savoury dishes, this is customary in Middle Eastern cooking and so I had an inkling that I would probably love them. I posted a photo of my new purchase on twitter and one of my followers,  Sophia – who writes the blog ‘Real Simple Food’ – sweetly tweeted back saying how she enjoyed eating a savoury dish called ‘Zereshk Polow’ growing up, which used barberries.

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I did a bit of digging around on the internet and came up with a number of recipes for the dish. It immediately appealed to me as it incorporated chicken, rice, saffron, turmeric, yoghurt, milk, rice, onions – what’s not to like?

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Since my discovery of the dish I have cooked it a number of times, simplifying it from some of the more detailed ones on the web and those that are rich in butter and egg. The dish originates from Iran although I discovered that barberries are not as exotic as we are led to believe as they once grew in abundance all over Europe, US and Asia. Over time they were eradicated as they were responsible for creating a fungus that caused damage to wheat crops. There were a wide variety of barberries growing in sixteenth century Britain and one of the most loved was called ‘Nutmeg Barberry’, which would typically be served as a garnish for fish such as pike. English kitchens would also use the fruit to make jellies, jams and even ice cream – now there’s an idea!

The barberries themselves are bursting with a citric, tart flavour, not dissimilar to little lime explosions. Their crimson colour adds a jewel like quality to the dish, not unlike pomegranate seeds in their appearance, and this complements the turmeric and saffron in an explosion of colour. It looks inviting don’t you think? As they are dried, they store really easily. When cooking all you need to do is give them a thorough wash and then pop them in the frying pan for around 30 seconds, continuing to move them around the hot pan so that they puff up slightly.

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The final part of the cooking  requires some layering of ingredients before placing in the oven for 30 minutes. See photos below.

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Zereshk Polow (Iranian Chicken with Barberries and Rice

3 large handfuls of basmati rice

3 small red onions (totally 125g weighed), finely sliced

500g chicken breasts/thighs, cut into substantial pieces

4 tbsp butter

1 tsp turmeric

50g dried barberries

1 tsp sugar

4 tbsp milk

1 pinch of saffron

3 tbsp plain yoghurt

pinch of rock salt

1. Wash the rice thoroughly in cold water and place into a pan and pour in enough boiling water so that the water is roughly a thumb nail higher than the rice. (I tend to find this calculation works for me!) Cook on a low heat until the rice has absorbed the water and the rice has softened.  Remove from the pan and place in a bowl.

2. Soak the barberries in cold water for 10 minutes. In a pan melt a tablespoon of butter then add the strained barberries followed by the sugar. Move the barberries around the pan so that they begin to puff up. They burn really easily so keep them moving for max 30 seconds and then place to one side.

3. In a small bowl add the milk and saffron, stir and allow to rest. Once the liquid has taken on a yellow hue add the yoghurt and mix thoroughly into the milk and saffron.

4. In a large pan add two tablespoons of butter and gently fry the onions so that they bronze slightly. Gently place the onions into a bowl to rest.

5. Place the chicken in a bowl with the turmeric and mix in throughly. Add another spoonful of butter to the same pan that the onions were in and gently brown the chicken on both sides. Then add 150ml cold water to the pan and allow the chicken to gently simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.  Remove the chicken and place in a bowl to one side and place the liquid with all the extra bits from the bottom of the pan into another bowl.

6. Now for the layering:  In the same pan that you have cooked the onions and chicken – I find my Le Creuset casserole pot works superbly –  add the final tablespoonful of butter and make sure that it fully coats the bottom and the lower sides. Add a layer of rice so that it completely covers the bottom of the pot then place the chicken pieces on top. Next add another layer of rice mixed with the barberries. Then add the onions on the top followed by the yoghurt saffron milk and finally the juicy liquid that you have kept to one side.  Scatter a pinch or two of rock salt over the top.

7. Place in a preheated oven at 150 degrees centigrade  (300F) for 30 minutes with the lid on, allowing the flavours to blend together.

8. Serve straight from the pot when it is still deliciously hot.


Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu


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In my first months of blogging, way back in the middle of 2011, I posted one of my absolute favourite recipes, Ma Po Tofu, which is a Sichuan classic and is seriously addictive – if you like chilli that is. It is incredibly easy to cook and after a manic day it is the perfect pick-me-up-food that takes no time to prepare. Over the years however, I have found that I am increasingly making it without the pork mince element and keeping it to a more vegetarian dish by including simply tofu and fresh (or sometimes frozen) spinach.

Recently in Hong Kong I began to judge eating establishments on how well they could cook Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles as I had a acquired a taste for both dishes.

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Tofu I know divides opinion, but I am definitely in the camp of someone who loves it. It wasn’t an immediate love affair, but one that has grown over time to the extent that I always have tofu in the house, ready and waiting for me to make a last minute Ma Po Tofu dish or my other favourite tofu dishes, roasted harlequin squash with tofu, kale and coriander in a miso curry paste, black pepper tofu and soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango. Seriously give them all a try – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Tofu, or bean curd as it is also known, is hugely nutritious, versatile and a great vehicle for flavour. It’s rich in protein and low in fat, especially saturated fat. Yes, eaten on its own it is rather plain, but the point of tofu is to incorporate it with other flavours which it will help to enhance and lift. There are a myriad of different types of tofu, but the one I tend to use the most is ‘firm, silken tofu’ . I am going to be cooking some more tofu dishes over the course of this year, hoping that I may convert a few followers to the joys of tofu eating.

So here is what you need for the vegetarian version of the dish.

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Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu

Serves 2/3

349g silken tofu (or a similar amount)

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

2 tbsp of chilli bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee’s I find works really well)

125ml of vegetable stock (fresh or a cube)

1 tsp shaoxing wine

1 tsp of soy sauce (light or dark)

2 tsp of sugar

1/4 tsp of sea salt

a good pinch of crushed Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 tsp of sesame oil

1. Cut the tofu into small (2cm) cubes and place to one side.

2. In a shallow pan heat the vegetable oil and then add the garlic and spring onions, stirring for around 30 seconds. Then add the chilli bean paste and mix into the garlic and spring onions.

3. After a minute add the chicken stock, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.

4. Add the spinach to the pan and gently fold into the hot sauce.

5. Once the spinach has begun to wither add the tofu and carefully spoon the sauce over the tofu, making sure not to break up the cubes. Leave to gently simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. Serve into a large bowl and sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame oil and gently mix together.

Serve alongside small bowls of rice and hot cups of piping Jasmine/Chinese tea.

Perfect for this cold snowy weather.


The Perfect Steamed Lemon Chicken

I have always been massively underwhelmed when ordering lemon chicken at Chinese restaurants to the extent that I never order it anymore as I don’t want to have further disappointments. It’s always far too sweet and the chicken looks too white and unappealing. So you can guess how delighted I was when I recently tried Neil Perry’s ‘Steamed Lemon Chicken’ recipe that actually tasted really good. I am a HUGE fan of the Australian chef  and his beautifully presented book ‘Balance and Harmony’. It was in his book that I found this recipe that is now one of my absolute favourites.

The beauty of Perry’s ‘Steamed Lemon Chicken’ is that it is really really easy. Seriously it is definitely going to become one of my ‘go to’ recipes that I can rustle up really quickly and yet can also be perfect to offer guests coming around for dinner.  Steaming the chicken really retains the flavour and tenderness through the use of steam and is one of the most healthy forms of cooking. It’s a win win.

The key with a good lemon chicken is to buy thighs and not breast meat folks as it is so much more tasty and tender. Seriously, do not think about buying breast meat for this recipe as it really won’t taste half as good. Trust me on this one.

The only alterations I have made to Perry’s recipe are:

1) As I did not have peanut oil to hand I used ground nut oil as an alternative.

2) Neil Perry’s recipe uses 350g of chicken and I have used 550g so my chicken needed more steaming time. He suggested 25 minutes but mine needed closer to 40 minutes.

Steamed Lemon Chicken

Serves 2-3

550g free-range or organic chicken thigh fillets, skin on (if possible), each cut into 3 pieces

1 1/2 (one and a half) lemons, quartered lengthways

a pinch of freshly ground white pepper

2 spring onions (scallions), cut into julienne

Marinade

1 tbsp shaoxing

1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp peanut/ground nut oil

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp sugar

 1. Place the chicken thighs in a shallow heatproof bowl and squeeze the lemon juice over the chicken and add the lemon skins to the bowl.

2. Prepare the marinade and add to the bowl of chicken and mix thoroughly using your hands and leave for at least 30 minutes so that the marinade can infuse the chicken with it’s wonderful flavours.

3. Firmly cover the bowl with foil and place into a large bamboo steamer (you can also use a steam oven if you do not have a bamboo steamer – both work equally well).

4. Place the bamboo steamer on a rack over a pot/wok of rapidly boiling water – you will need to place a couple of  inches of water into the pot. Put the lid on and steam the chicken for 40 minutes.  You will need to turn the chicken once during cooking so be careful when removing the lid and foil as the steam will be very hot. To check the chicken is cooked sufficiently make a small incision into the flesh to see that it is fully cooked and not pink! If it is not quite done, continue to steam for a further few minutes. If you cook with a smaller amount of meat – 350g – steam for 25 minutes.

5. Carefully remove the bowl from the steamer and place the chicken onto plates, or a warmed central plate and sprinkle with ground white pepper and spring onions.  Serve with rice.


Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Winter time calls for hearty stews, casseroles and tagines to lift the spirits and bring joy, warmth and wonderful cooking smells into the home. You can cook them in advance and they are also perfect for leftovers the next day. Cooking with dried fruit divides opinion, but I for one am a huge fan and if someone really dislikes prunes, apricots or raisins I suppose they could easily pick them out so as to avoid eating them, but in many respects I feel they would kind of be missing the point. I think the fruit adds to the depth of flavour and gives it a touch of sweetness that makes this dish stand out from the crowd.

I don’t have a proper tagine dish so I cook mine initially in my Le creuset pot and then transfer it to two oven proof dishes. It works equally well with rice, which you can cook with a couple of cardamom pods, so as to make the dish more exotic, or couscous with a sprinkling of roasted almonds. I have added a chilli to the dish, naturally, but this is optional and tastes equally delicious without.

The amount I cooked was more than sufficient for a large group, so just divide by 2 for a family of 4/5.

Slow Cooked Lamb with Tomatoes, Dried Fruit and Spices

Adapted from a similar recipe by Tana Ramsay’s Family Kitchen

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

1.6kg lamb cut into bite sized portions

2 inch ginger, grated

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, chopped

6 spring onions

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground cumin

1.5 pints chicken stock

32 vine cherry tomatoes

handful of fresh thyme

15 dried apricots

10 pitted prunes, cut in half

50g/4oz raisins

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

rock salt, sprinkling

1) Preheat the oven to 160 degrees

2) Add  2 tbsp olive oil to a deep cooking pot and gently fry the ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onions for a couple of minutes.

3) Place the lamb into the pot and stir gently so that all the lamb begins to cook and change colour from a deep red to a lighter brown. This will take around 6 minutes. Once the lamb has changed colour add the rest of the spices and really stir into the lamb. Add the stock and then transfer into one or two oven proof dishes and place in the oven for 1 hour.

4) Whilst the lamb is cooking place the vine tomatoes in a separate oven proof dish with a few sprigs of thyme, a little olive oil and a sprinkling of rock salt. Place into the oven for 30 minutes so as to intensify the flavour.

5) When the oven roasted tomatoes have finished cooking add these, along with the dried fruits, a small handful of chopped coriander to the main dish and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serve immediately with a little extra fresh coriander sprinkled on top and either rice or couscous on the side.