Black Pepper Tofu

We have all experienced it. You place the food in your mouth; you like the taste and it isn’t too spicy; you swallow it and take another bite; the heat begins to build… and build … suddenly you are regretting your choices. A deep regret that a glass of water will do nothing to placate. Your mouth is on fire.

The flavour profiles of chilli peppers is one of their most interesting traits.  Some chillies are like an explosion of fire that is rapidly extinguished and then you are fine, some warm slowly to an uncomfortably hot level before reducing to a more manageable experience and then there are the slow burners. These hit you in the back half of your mouth. They start with nothing and rapidly grow in spiciness – the ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) takes almost 30 seconds to start heating your mouth to a level which can lead to excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, crying etc. and this level of heat can hang around for over half an hour!

Capsaicin is the “active ingredient” in chillies – it’s what makes them hot. The capsaicin binds to the receptors in your mucous membranes – this is why it affects the nose as well as the mouth – and stimulates the same response as burning. Exposure to concentrated capsaicin causes irritation to the skin – inflammation and itchiness – which is why capsaicin is used in some forms of pepper spray. The hydrophilic nature of capsaicin means that water will do nothing to alleviate the affects. The best way to get it off your skin is by rubbing with some sort of oil and then washing with large quantities of soap as the soap will emulsify the water and capsaicin allowing it to be rinsed off.

The most interesting hot sauces on the market employ many types of chilli. This gives their flavour a level of complexity that is not present if only a single variety is used, as the heat can come in waves. There is the added benefit that chillies have different flavours apart from their spiciness; some chillies are sweet, some are nutty and some are fruity. Mixing your chilli types in a dish is a great way to personalise it to your palate. The primary flavours in the recipe below are chilli…and black pepper – it is spicy. Pepper – as I have said before – produces a very different heat to that achieved from adding chillies to a dish. The active ingredient, piperine, is far less aggressively hot than capsaicin but gives a far more warming flavour. Of course too much warmth still feels like burning but with a well balanced dish, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The recipe below was originally taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have refined it a little to suit my personal taste but it is relatively true to the original. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Back Pepper Tofu

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3

 

 

400g tofu

50g cornflour

½ tsp salt

75g butter

6 medium shallots

3 tbsp finely chopped ginger

6 medium garlic cloves – crushed

4 finely chopped red chillies (you can choose mild chillies to super spicy ones depending on the heat level you wish to achieve)

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

1 ½ tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp black peppercorns

½ tsp pink peppercorns (these can be replaced by black ones if you prefer)

8 spring onions, finely sliced

 

Press the tofu. This involves cutting it into slices and wrapping them in a cloth before placing weight on top to squeeze out the excess liquid. It will help give the tofu a firmer texture.

Combine the salt and cornflour in a large bowl.

Cut the tofu into cubes and toss these in the cornflour/salt mixture to coat.

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Fill a large frying pan with half a centimetre of oil and fry the tofu on all sides until it is crispy.DSC05659

Set the tofu aside and drain the oil out of the pan – I like to filter it into a jar and keep it for deep frying at a later date.

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Finely slice the shallots into half-moons.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies.

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Lightly fry for about ten to fifteen minutes until the garlic is cooked and the shallots are soft.

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Grind up the peppercorns. You can either do this using a normal pepper grinder or using a pestle and mortar (I prefer the latter).DSC05671

Stir the peppercorns and sugar into the soy sauces in a bowl and then add this to the shallots.

Allow to bubble away for two minutes to combine all of the flavours.

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Tip the tofu back in and stir to cover the tofu in sauce.

Continue to cook until the tofu has been sufficiently reheated.

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I forgot to buy spring onions for this but you don’t need to make the same mistake!

Stir through the finely sliced spring onion and serve.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, you should definitely check out my recipe for ginger tofu or even my teriyaki recipe.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a flaky pastry which will easily outshine the ones you can get from the supermarket.

H

Korean Rice Bowls

Rice bowls have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Whether that is because of their instragramable appearance, their healthiness (content dependent of course) or even just because they are an easy meal which can be eaten hot or cold I do not know, but whatever the reason they are a fab dish to have in your culinary repertoire. As rice bowls only consist of a variety of toppings laid out over rice, they really aren’t that different from a standard rice dish but what sets them apart is how they look. The brightness and variety of toppings contrast with the neutral base colour of the rice, resulting in a dish which is beautiful and (if done properly) delicious to eat. I am not quite sure where the western notion of rice bowls came from but I would assume that it evolved from the Japanese dish donburi, where meat or fish are cooked with vegetables and then served over a bowl of rice, but this is entirely conjecture on my behalf.

The toppings on your rice bowl are a completely personal thing. Common toppings involve cooked meats (which are often roasted, glazed or fried in sauce), cooked or raw fish, tofu, cooked and raw vegetables, salad and often some sort of pickle to cut through the richness of the rest of the toppings. Beans can be used to help bulk out the dish so you end up with neither too much rice nor too much of the main topping – too much of anything can get boring and you want to enjoy your meal. I have also seen many rice bowl recipes which are topped with a fried egg where the yolk can be cut into and the runny insides mixed into the rest of the dish – almost like a ricey carbonara.

The topping which I am giving the recipe for this week is fried minced beef with onion, garlic, soy and lots of chili. If you can get your hands on Gochujang – a fermented, spicy Korean chili paste – I would fully recommend using it for the chili in this dish as this is what will give you the best flavour and is possibly the only thing that makes this “Korean Beef” as opposed to “Asian Style Beef”. Failing that, any hot chili sauce will work and if you want an extra hit of spice, adding fresh chili is a good way to go about that.

One of the best things about this dish is that you can eat it cold and it still tastes great. The one thing to remember is that when it is cooling, the sauce will separate, the fats and oils into one layer and the water based ingredients into another. A lot of this fat will have come out of the beef when cooking so do not be alarmed by the quantity and what it looks like when it has set – this can appear rather unappealing – but make sure to give everything a good stir when the meat has cooled as this will bring the sauce back together and ensure that the fat is evenly distributed throughout the dish. Try to avoid pouring off the fat as it contains a lot of the beefy flavour and it would be a shame to waste it.

 

Korean Chilli Beef

Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

 

400g beef mince

1 medium onion

4 spring onions

2 tbsp vegetable oil

 

Sauce ingredients:

60ml (1/4 cup) soy sauce

50g (1/4cup) brown sugar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp hot chilli sauce (gochujang/sriracha)

1 hot red chilli – finely chopped

Pepper to taste

 

Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

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Finely chop the onion and spring onion and set aside the green section of the spring onion for later.

Heat a large frying pan with the oil and add the onions.

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Sautee until the onion turns translucent.

Add the beef, breaking it up in the pan with a wooden spoon.

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Fry for a few minutes, stirring every now and then, until most of the beef has turned from red to brown and the fat has started being released.

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Add the sauce. The pan will be hot so the sauce should bubble on contact.

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Stir to coat everything with the sauce.

Continue to cook for another 3 minutes to make sure the garlic and chilli are both cooked through.

If the sauce is still quite runny, you can add a little cornflour mixed with water to thicken it up (breadcrumbs and matzah meal also work).

Once the sauce has thickened, stir through the chopped green section of the spring onions and remove the beef from the heat.

 

The beef can be served both hot and cold on top or rice, just remember to give it a thorough stirring if you let it cool as the sauce will separate and you will want to mix the fats/oils back into the sauce.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe! If you are a fan of Asian style foods, check out my recipes for ginger tofu and sticky salmon. If the salmon piques your interest, you should definitely check out Yanmin over at Yan and the Yums, she taught it to me several years ago and is a stunningly good chef with some fab recipes.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious chocolatey treat.

Roast Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

Almost everything I cook (which is savoury) starts with the same two ingredients: onion and garlic. Garlic is everywhere. Its pungent smell and flavour make it a popular seasoning for food as comparatively little is needed to impact the overall flavour. What I find a shame, however, is how rare it is for garlic to get the opportunity to act as the main flavour of a dish. When I was an undergraduate, my housemate introduced me to a dish called garlic pasta. Now, I have always added a small amount of garlic to my pasta dishes but the idea of frying a large quantity of garlic in oil and using that as the pasta sauce (along with some cherry tomatoes/onion) was a bit foreign to me. This is an ultimate comfort food – right up there with tomato soup. That dish, along with Yotam Ottolenghi’s caramelised garlic tart and the recipe I am giving today, brings the total of garlic-centric dishes I know up to three so if you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Garlic is an allium – that is to say that it is in the same genus (family) as the onion, the leek, shallots and chives. It is used more as a flavouring than the base for a dish unlike the other members of its family (excluding chives as they are a herb). Smoked bulbs of garlic are an often used ingredient and black garlic has been increasing in popularity for a long time. Black garlic is created by heating normal bulbs to between 60 and 77°C for two to three months. This temperature allows our old friend the Malliard reacton to occur throughout the entirety of the bulb, not just on the surface. For those of you have not come across the Malliard reaction before, this is what causes food to brown when you cook it. It is a non-enzymatic reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids on the surface of the food. The conditions in which black garlic is created allow for this reaction to be more than surface deep.

As well as its culinary uses garlic has been used as a medicine for millennia (Sanskrit records date its use back 5000 years. In ancient Egypt, garlic was used as a form of currency; in Auryvedic medicine garlic is used as an aphrodisiac; in the bible, the Jews wandering in the desert complained to Moses about the foods they missed since leaving Egypt, one of which included garlic; and of course, one cannot talk about the appearances of garlic throughout history and folklore without mentioning one of the most famous of them all: the vampire. Garlic was believed to ward off demons, werewolves and vampires – a wreath of garlic flowers or even bulbs around the neck along with the rubbing of cut cloves of garlic around windows, doors and chimneys was meant to protect the inhabitants of the house form harm.

If there are medical benefits to eating copious quantities of garlic, then this recipe is the one for you. Much as I try to give a vegetarian alternative to my recipes, I am not sure how if I could do anything to make this less meaty so unfortunately, I’ll have to give that a miss this week. If you are a fan of chicken, I hope you like the recipe and if you aren’t, why not try it with a different roast meat? Enjoy, and I’ll see you next week with a dish that’s a little bit more vegetarian friendly.

Roast Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes per kilogram + 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 large chicken

2 heads of garlic

100ml olive oil

1 tsp salt

2 large onions

125ml white wine/vermouth

3 bay leaves (optional)

½ lemon (optional)

Separate and peel the cloves from one head of garlic.

Blend the garlic cloves with the olive oil and salt until smooth.

Optional: joint the chicken – removing the bottom, scaly parts of the legs from the base of the drumsticks and remove the wings. We use these for making stock at home but you can leave them on if you wish.

Cut out the oil glands at the base of the Parson’s nose and discard them.

Place the chicken into a roasting dish.

If possible – this will often require an extra pair of hands as one pair isn’t quite enough – try and pour half of the garlic oil underneath the skin. This will help the flavour infuse into the meat of the chicken.

Rub the rest of the garlic oil all over the outside of the chicken pouring any excess inside the body cavity.

Stuff half a lemon into the body cavity.

Cut the onions into eigths and spread the piece out around the chicken.

Pour over the wine/vermouth and add the bay leaves.

Separate the cloves of garlic from the second bulb but do not peel them! Just sprinkle them liberally around the chicken. The garlic will go soft and sweeten up in the oven.

Cover and leave until you wish to put the chicken in the oven.

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To cook the chicken, preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).

Cook the chicken for 20 minutes plus 45 minutes per kilogram (eg, a 1.5kg chicken would cook for just a touch under an hour and a half).

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For ultra-crispy skin, uncover the chicken for the last ten minutes of baking but be careful not to burn it.

This roast chicken is absolutely delicious and like any roast meat, goes perfectly well with super crispy roast potatoes – I like to cook mine for at least 75 minutes to get them so hard you need a small industrial jackhammer to cut them.

If you want to try roasting a chicken but don’t want to do something that prevents you from human interaction after eating the way this quantity of garlic will, leave out the garlic and oil and just replace the wine with cooking sherry for a more basic but still delicious roast dinner.

If you like chicken, you should most definitely check out Jo Bellerina’s sticky mango chicken, it is stunning!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a swiss roll with a twist…

H

Mushroom Carbonara

I feel that for my own health and safety, in what is quite possibly a vain attempt not to be taken out by the carbonara mafia, I should start this post by saying that THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL CARBONARA. I will explain how to make the classic version of this dish but, for those of you who have not come across it before, this is very much a vegetarian alternative. Also, I would like to make it clear now that I do eat meat and this post is in no way passing judgement on anyone for their food choices: meat, fish, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise.

The main aim of this recipe is to show that you do not need to use a meat substitute to make a delicious vegetarian version of a classically meaty dish. A lot of the time vegetarian food can come off as a poor imitation of meat-based foods but if you just do away with the pretence and accept that dish is going to be different from the meaty version then a lot of problems can be solved. By all means take inspiration from a meat-based dish as a lot of cuisines have iconic meat and fish dishes woven into their culture and it would be a shame to completely ignore these if you choose to go vegetarian (or vegan). However instead of trying to find something like chicken flavoured Quorn steaks or beef style soya mince to replace the meat, why not use something that can be proud of what it is instead of pretending to be something that it isn’t?

The most common complaints that I have heard from meat eaters about vegetarian food is that it lacks flavour or body – body as in substance, not as in the dead body of an animal. Items of food such as tofu are particularly good at getting around this problem by having texture (if it is pressed and cooked well) and can also absorb lots of flavour from whatever they sauce they are in. For this recipe, the mushroom is the star. The mushrooms are seared until all of the liquid has come out and they start to brown. This browning occurs as a result of the Maillard reaction when sugars and amino acids in the mushrooms react with each other. The result is a wonderful depth of flavour which makes the dish far tastier. Mushrooms have a very distinct texture (one which not everyone likes) but it is a texture none the less. By searing them, the mushrooms do not end up boiling in their own juices which would lead to them going soggy so they give a lot of body to the dish.

At the start I said that I would explain why this is not a traditional carbonara – and I’m not just talking about the mushrooms. A true carbonara sauce does not have onion in it but more shocking is the fact that there is no garlic. For anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for some time, you may have noticed that almost every savoury recipe I have starts with garlic – in fact, I will be providing you in a few weeks with a recipe which has two whole bulbs of garlic in it.

Back to classic carbonara, the only things in the sauce are olive oil, guanciale (pork cheek), egg, pecorino cheese and pepper (and maybe some salt – that depends on you). To make this, you first cut the pork into small cubes and fry it in the olive oil until all the fat has rendered out. You then whisk together the egg, cheese, salt and pepper. The still hot, cooked pasta is added into the pan with the pork followed by the egg mixture and everything is then stirred until the egg has thickened from the latent heat in the pasta and the pan. You can then serve the dish and garnish with more cheese, pepper and sometimes fresh herbs.

The recipe below is a great way to enjoy carbonara without the meat – great for vegetarians or people who don’t eat pork. There is an alternative to the classic carbonara, created by Roman Jews where the pork is replaced with carne secca, a cured, salted beef. Alternatively, you could just have the pasta with the egg and cheese sauce and forgo any sort of meat or veg if you do not want to meddle with the tradition too much.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did when I was making it. I discovered that a little goats cheese instead of some of the parmesan works wonderfully well with the mushrooms so why not give that a go too if you like this?

 

Mushroom Carbonara

Serves 2

Time: 20 minutes

Cost per portion: around £1.25

 

150-200g pasta

200g mushrooms

3 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion

4 cloves garlic

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

80g pecorino romano or parmesan cheese (I prefer parmesan myself)

1½ tsp salt

5-10 grinds of black pepper

1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

 

Place a pan of water onto the stove to heat. Add 1tsp salt.

Destalk the mushrooms before chopping them into quarters. Chop the stalks in half lengthwise

Heat a large empty pan for about a minute.

Add the oil to the pan. It should begin to shimmer immediately and coat the base of the pan.

Tip in the mushrooms and gently toss to coat with the oil.

Leave the mushrooms for around five minutes until they begin to brown. They will release liquid in this time which will boil off immediately. At this point, you should begin to cook the pasta in the water you heated earlier.

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Gently stir the mushrooms to turn them over so they begin to brown all around.

 

While the mushrooms are cooking, finely dice the onion and slice the garlic thinly.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks before grating in the cheese and whisking again.

Add ½ tsp salt and the pepper to the egg mix and whisk again.

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Once the mushrooms have browned, add the garlic and onion.

Stir while they are cooking to avoid the garlic burning. You don’t really want to brown, just cook them through.

Drain the pasta just before it is fully cooked as it will finish cooking with the mushrooms. Make sure to reserve a cup of water from the pasta before you drain it.

Add a quarter of this reserved water to the mushrooms. The water will boil immediately and deglaze the pan, lifting up all of the mushroom flavour that is stuck to it.

Tip the pasta into the pan with the mushrooms and continue to cook until all of the water is gone. Turn off the heat and leave for two minutes to cool a little.

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Whisk one third of the remaining water (60ml) into the egg mix. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble when they hit the hot pasta.

Tip the egg mix into the pasta and stir continuously for a few minutes until the liquid has thickened into a creamy sauce as the egg cooks. Make sure to stir across the whole base of the pan to ensure the egg doesn’t cook unevenly. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of the reserved pasta water.

Stir in the parsley and serve.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of mushrooms and pasta, why not check out my mushroom pasta bake – it is one of the first things I posted on this blog; if you are vegetarian just ignore the chicken in it as the dinner works perfectly well without it. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, why not make yourself some miniature almond cakes? They are divine.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next weeks with a deliciously flaky baked dish.

H

Fishcakes

When I was younger, and to an extent still today, I would always choose fishcakes over battered fish. My main issue with deep fried fish was that the skin was incredibly slimy – which is gross. Why would I choose to have slimy fish when I could have delicious fishcakes? The main problem with commercial fish cakes is that they are basically all potato. It’s cheap to add to the mix and when it’s combined with flavour enhancers it is very difficult to know how much actual fish there is in the cake. When you make them for yourself, you know – in this case the fishcakes are about 30% fish and 70% potato, egg, onion and bread.

The history of fishcakes dates back 4000 years. A Chinese folk tale tells of a fisherman who fed his homemade fishcakes to Emperor Shun’s wives which cheered them up and returned their waning appetites to normal. According to the story, Shun was so pleased by this that he requested the fisherman teach others how to make the fishcakes and thus the fishcake became a popular dish in China. In both China and Japan surimi (a paste made from fish or meat) was used to make fishcakes and fish balls. It was often made using the fish that couldn’t be sold either whole or as fillets and so would have gone to waste otherwise.

Fishcakes are an excellent way of using up left over mashed potato. You might even go as far as to make a double portion of mash for your shepherd’s pie and use the excess the next day for a fishcake dinner. If you choose to use tinned fish (I would avoid tuna but tinned salmon is absolutely fine) this dish becomes ultra-fast to make. Just drain the fish, mix it into the potato with onion, seasoning and an egg and you are good to go. There is no rule saying you have to spend time coating the fishcakes in breadcrumbs – it’s mainly convention – but it is the best way to get a crunchy exterior.

The recipe below is a very basic one. Like with all food, there are hundreds of recipes giving tips and tricks for how to make the same dish but sometimes it is nice to have a good base case from which you can work upwards. As you will notice, I do not season the mashed potato. Some people will add milk and butter – if you are using left over mash from a previous meal, this is likely to be in there – and that is fine. The fishcakes will be a little bit softer but they will still work just as well. I used cod for these but any white fish will do – including smoked fish (though probably not kippers). You could even use salmon if you fancy being decadent. Additional ingredients like chives and leeks are common in fishcakes too and I have even seen Asian spiced ones which included ginger, chilli, turmeric and coriander. These really are perfect to use for experimenting with flavours.

For this recipe, I have assumed that you are starting with nothing prepared or precooked however if you are starting with premade mash or using tinned fish, the prep time will be drastically decreased. Enjoy the recipe and I hope you will discover just how simple these can be.

 

 

Fishcakes

Serves: 5

Time: 2 hours

Cost per portion: around £1.30

 

300g fish (I would use cod or haddock, perhaps even salmon if I was feeling decadent)

600g potato

1 medium onion/ 6 spring onions

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 egg

1 clove garlic (minced)

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

 

To coat:

Flour

1 egg

Panko breadcrumbs/medium matzah meal

Oil for frying

 

 

Cut the potatoes into small pieces and place in a pan of cold water on the stove. Add about a teaspoon of salt to the pan

Heat until the water starts to boil and let simmer for ten minutes until the potato is cooked – you should be able to insert a skewer into the pieces with very little resistance.

Drain the potato into a colander and leave to cool for five minutes. Do not remove the potato from the colander as more water will leave the potatoes as steam which will help prevent the fishcakes being soggy.

Mash the potatoes. If you have a Mouli or a potato ricer, this will give you the best result but a hand masher will work too.55437930_549514922123949_8495275106229026816_n

Leave the potatoes to cool. I like to do this in a large bowl and spread the mash up the sides as this increases the surface area so the mash will cool much faster.

 

While the potatoes are cooking, place the fish into a frying pan and fill with water until it just covers the fish You could also add herbs (bay leaves for example) to the water to give a bit of extra flavour.

Cover the frying pan and bring the water to a simmer. Leave for about five minutes until the fish is cooked (there should be no translucent areas).

Remove the fish from the water and leave to cool for twenty minutes or so.

Finely chop the onions and place them in a large bowl.

Add the cooled mash, nutmeg, garlic, salt, at least five grinds of pepper and the egg.

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Use your hands or a fork to gently flake the cooked fish. It should come off the skin when you do this. If you find any small bones, just remove them now.

Add the fish to the other ingredients and gently mix together. I prefer to do this by hand – it’s a little bit messy but it prevents the fish getting pulverised so there will still be small flakes in the finished product.

 

Pour around 50g plain flour into a wide bowl for coating the fishcakes.

Divide the batter into ten portions and shape them (by hand) into patties.

After shaping each one, place it in the flour and make sure it is evenly coated before placing it onto a board.

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Once all ten have been shaped and floured, place them in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.

 

In a bowl, crack and beat an egg with a fork until it is no longer gelatinous. In a separate, wide bowl, measure out about 100g breadcrumbs/matzah meal. You can add seasonings to this coating too but be careful, spices are likely to burn in the oil if you add them here so it is safest to stick to a little salt and pepper.

Keeping one hand wet and one hand dry, take the fishcakes one at a time and lightly coat in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

Place them back on the board after each coating. If any little bits of fishcake fall off, keep these for testing that the oil is the right temperature.

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Add vegetable oil to a frying pan until it around 1cm deep.

Heat this until a small piece of fishcake dropped in starts to bubble.

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Fry the fishcakes a few at a time until the base is golden, flip them and repeat with the other side. Keep flipping until the fishcakes are a deep brown colour (but not burnt).

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Serve hot.

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The fishcakes can be frozen both pre and post cooking, if you want to do it before you cook them, shape and flour the fishcakes before placing them in the freezer on the board. After they have gone solid, you can place them all into a bag together but if you do that too early, they fishcakes will deform and stick together.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love fish, why not check out my salmon kedgeree or ever my pan-fried salmon with crispy skin, it is delicious.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for miniature cakes, perfect for afternoon tea.

Falafel

When most people think of falafel, they think of chickpeas. Now, they aren’t technically wrong as the main constituent of modern falafel is chickpeas however they were traditionally made with fava beans. Falafel is still made with fava beans in many places – notably Egypt which is believed to be where falafel (ta’amiya) originated from. It is not uncommon to find a mixture of chickpeas and fava beans in falafel either but for most people, especially those in the western world, chickpeas are the favourite.

As with hummus there is much debate over the specific origin of falafel. It is generally accepted that the food which evolved into the falafel we know today was Egyptian, however many countries in the Middle East claim falafel as their own, even going as far as calling it their national dish at various points in history. In a surprising turn of events, there are also those who claim that India owns the rights, as it were, to the falafel’s creation – although I cannot find any evidence to support this so if you know of any I would love to hear about it! The movement of nomadic groups around the middle east would have meant that falafel was transported all over the area. This could very easily give rise to the arguments that exist today.

There are hundreds of different varieties of falafel, the main differences between them arising from the addition of different flavouring elements. Fresh herbs, dried spices, alliums, even the length of the time the dried beans are left soaking can all have an effect on the final product. Fava bean falafels often contain leeks whereas a chickpea-based mixture will usually include onions or spring onions (scallions). Both varieties have a hefty amount of garlic (as they should) and regularly contain fresh parsley and coriander which gives rise to a lurid green centre when you bite into the falafel. I have seen recipes for both falafel and hummus where you are instructed to leave the chickpeas in their soak for days until they sprout as this apparently gives a sweetness to the final product. Again, I have never tried this but let me know if you have and if it works. I doubt I would be successful if I tried this as the salt in the soak I leave the chickpeas in is probably high enough in concentration to kill any part of the chickpea which is still alive.

When making falafel, it is imperative that you start with dried chickpeas. This is because canned chickpeas come pre-cooked and, while this is just about acceptable when making hummus, for good falafel the chickpeas must be raw. When chickpeas are cooked, the starch inside them bursts and comes out into the liquid they are cooked and cooled in giving rise to aquafaba. Unfortunately, this starch is essential to making good falafel as without it they will fall apart during cooking. You can avoid this by adding some flour to bind the mixture together but it won’t have the fluffy inside and crispy outside that you want for the best falafel. This can only be achieved by making them from scratch (which is brilliant if you are cooking on a budget as a bag of dried chickpeas can make twelve generous portions of falafel and only costs about £1.20).

The final combination of herbs and spices is of course completely up to you. The ones given in the recipe below are my favourite but everyone has their own preferences. By adding salt to the original soak, the chickpeas are already a little bit seasoned so you may have to play around with the amount you add depending on whether you are a salt fiend like me or not. The bicarbonate of soda and flour are there to help soften the skin of the chickpeas so they can absorb more water but will not impact the flavour in any way as they are completely washed off.

I would serve these with fresh hummus and pitta bread – perhaps a laffa or taboon bread if you are feeling like a bigger portion. You can stuff the pitta with hummus and spicy sauces, pickled veg and fresh salad (tomato and cucumber are popular) before topping it with these glorious crunch balls. Enjoy the recipe and let me know how it goes for you.

 

Falafel

Soak time: 12-36 hours

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per serving: around 50p

 

 

250g dried chickpeas

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 medium onion

4 large cloves garlic

3 tbsp chopped parsley

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Place the chickpeas into a bowl and fill it with water.

Mix the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda with four tablespoons of water to make a slurry.

Stir the slurry into the chickpeas and water.

Leave overnight or for up to 36 hours for the chickpeas to rehydrate.

 

Drain the chickpeas and rinse them to remove all of the flour mixture.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic and put into the bowl of a large food processor.

Add the parsley, chickpeas, cumin and a little salt and pepper.

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Blend to make a rough mixture. It will begin to clump with the liquid from the chickpeas – this is good! As the chickpeas are raw, you will not get a smooth paste.

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Shape into patties just under an inch thick  – a rounded tablespoon of mixture per patty should give you 35 falafel from this recipe.

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Add a centimetre of oil to the base of a large frying pan and heat. Use a little of the falafel mixture to tell when the oil is ready, it should bubble around any falafel added – please note that the oil will not bubble unless something is in it and is very hot. Do not let children near hot oil.

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Place the falafel in the pan and leave for two minutes until the base is golden. Flip and repeat with the other side. Continue to flip the falafel until they are a dark brown all around the outside.

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If you are cooking the falafel in batches, keep them warm in the oven (on its lowest setting) until all the falafel are cooked. Place them onto a piece of kitchen roll when you take them out of the pan to remove any excess oil.

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Serve with hummus, pitta, schug and fresh salads for a delicious, middle eastern feast.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you want to make your own hummus to go with these falafel, check out my recipe. It’s ultra-smooth and pairs beautifully with the crispiness of the falafel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a miniature cake recipe.

H

 

 

 

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is a classic comfort food. At university, if I was ever ill, Heinz tomato soup with bread dipped in it was my go to dish as it was a fast, satisfying dinner. What I didn’t realise at the time was quite how simple it is to make this for yourself! Whilst I always had a tub of some sort of homemade soup in the freezer, it was never tomato because I thought that I would never be able to create something that could rival the classic red can. I was wrong.

The variety of tomato you use will dramatically affect the final result of the soup. For most tomatoes, it will come out a bright orange colour which is usually darkened by adding tomato puree. For a much naturally darker soup, you can use passata instead of fresh tomatoes; passata is basically a less thick version of the tomato puree that you can buy in a tube. The tomatoes in passata and puree are already cooked and strained so the colour you get from them is far closer to the colour of the final soup. Using passata will also result in a much more intense flavour. If you are trying to make an econo-soup, you can use tinned tomatoes which don’t require the peeling or coring, just make sure to drain them first so you don’t water down the soup. Tinned tomatoes usually offer a truer flavour than using passata; however for most people, myself included, this is not really an issue.

It is a well known fact that tomatoes are a fruit. What is less commonly known is that they are actually a berry along with cucumbers, bananas, kiwis and aubergines (and not strawberries or raspberries). They are, unfortunately, not quite as healthy as people think. Before you get worried, tomatoes are not bad for you (unless you have an allergy etc.) however, other than being an ok source of vitamin C, they do not offer very much other nutritional benefit. There have been many claims that they can help offset heart disease and the effect of UV radiation on the skin however all testing in these areas has been inconclusive.

Fresh tomato soup is obviously not the same as what you can buy at the supermarket but it is still wonderful. It is true that if I was ill, I would want the childhood favourite as a pick me up (after the classic chicken soup of course #jewishpenicillin) but for normal consumption, a more sophisticated soup is preferable. Let me know what you think.

 

 

Tomato Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Serves: 6

Cost per portion: from 50p (with tinned tomatoes)

 

Ingredients

10 ripe tomatoes (about 1kg after peeling and coring)

2 medium onions

1 large carrot

3 large sticks of celery

3 large cloves garlic

2 tbsp tomato paste

300ml vegetable stock

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Chop the onions, celery and carrots into smallish pieces.

Place in a large saucepan and lightly cook (with the lid on) for about 10 minutes – or until the onions have gone translucent and the other vegetables have begun to soften.

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While the onions and carrots are cooking, peel and core the tomatoes.

To peel them, make an x shaped incision in the base of each tomato, pour over boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. The skin should now easily peel off from where the incision was made.

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To core, cut into quarters and remove the stalky bit from the centre.

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Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the tomatoes and stir through. Leave to simmer for about ten minutes. The tomato should go very mushy and release a lot of liquid.

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Add the stock and tomato paste and leave to simmer for another ten minutes.

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Blend the soup until it is homogenous and silky. I like to give it an extra minute once it already seems fully liquidized as this is what makes the texture so wonderful.

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Serve with bread for dipping and a swirl of cream.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe, if you love standard tomato soup, why not try out the red pepper version too? It’s just as orange and has an extra exciting flavour in the peppers.

Have a good one. I will be back next week with a delicious, ballet related dessert.

H