Sometimes all a dish needs to make it pop, come alive and generally look a little more special than the normal is some flavoured butter. These are easily whipped up by mashing herbs, spices or citrus into softened butter, then chilling the butter again, but they seem very exotic, the sort of thing that should sit on its own little plate, with a tiny silver knife, on a white tablecloth in a posh restaurant. Melted over food they add flavour, fat and all round awesomeness, bringing the dry and mundane into the world of the moist and fun immediately. Plus they last a very long time in the fridge, always a bonus.
Prawns with orange saffron butter
From Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume
This recipe was supposed to be served with a swede and tahini mash, which sounded great. Lacking swede I decided to substitute carrots, and thought my beautiful purple carrots would be just the thing. Alas, after boiling the water was a vivid indigo and my carrots had turned a sort of murky brown colour, and still didn’t mash properly. I think I might just stick with swede next time.
1 tablespoon gin
4 threads saffron
Zest and juice of half an orange
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon ground garlic powder
250g king prawns, shelled and deveined
1. In a small bowl stir the saffron threads into the gin and leave to infuse for 3 minutes. Add the orange juice and zest, then stir in the sumac, cumin, chives and garlic powder. Beat in the softened butter; it will separate out, and then, when it is well mixed, come back together again. There may be a little liquid left in the bottom of the bowl; this is fine. Take the flavoured butter out of the bowl, plop it onto a piece of clingfilm, and roll it into a log. Twist the ends tightly closed and refrigerate for 3 hours, or freeze for an hour.
2. Heat a frying pan and add about a quarter of the butter. When it starts to sizzle, add the prawns. Toss to coat in the butter and cook over a high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add another quarter of the butter to the pan, allow it just to melt, and then serve the prawns, with the remaining chilled orange butter on the side. Serve with green leaves and swede and tahini mash.
Serves 2. I served this with a lovely Traminer from Bulgaria. Research suggests this could either be a Savagnin, or Gewürtztraminer. Alas, my Bulgarian isn’t good enough to permit me to discover which, and even if I could read all of the bottle, I suspect it still wouldn’t tell me. Either way, the fruity and strong floral notes matched the orange and saffron very nicely.
As summer starts hinting that it’s going to draw to a close, I know, already, it’s sad isn’t it, now is the time to make the most of your blender and freezer. First, stock up on those fruits that are in season; apricots, peaches, cherries, plums and freeze, freeze, freeze. You’ll thank me when you have almost fresh stone fruits in mid-winter, all ready to be thrown into a crumble or pie, to break the monotony of more damn apples. Second, stock up on those fruits which are reduced because they’re on their last legs; strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, the squishier the better. Then blend, blend, blend into smoothies, syrups and fruit soups. Alternatively, combine the two methods and blend and freeze to make real ice lollies, which are such a revelation, once tasted those five-tone stripy round lollies that look like they’re wearing little jumpers will never be on your shopping list again.
Strawberry, balsamic and black pepper ice lollies
100g strawberries, hulled and halved
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Put all the ingredients in a blender along with a couple of tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Taste and add a little more vinegar or sugar, depending on how sweet or tangy you want them to be. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze for 3-4 hours or until ready to eat.
Makes 4 small lollies.
Summer meals for one are problematic. The temptation is to gorge on stone fruits or one vegetable, the effort of prepping everything for a salad just too much in the heat, the alternatives of soup, toasties or baked potatoes too stodgy and warming. The result is a vague feeling of dissatisfaction with whatever is selected for dinner, a not-quite fullness that leads to the ice cream tub. Sweetcorn is the answer though, and I don’t mean to the question of dessert. Sweetcorn in desserts is plain wrong; apologies to those Malaysians who love their ais kacang. But for mains, corn can be turned into a full meal in any number of quick ways; grilled and topped with crumbled feta and bacon; stewed with beans in a succotash; or heated over a hob with some pork, tomatoes and a bit of chilli like here. Satisfying and summery.
Summer sweetcorn salad
Adapted slightly from The Kitchen Sink
6 small slices salami, chopped into small chunks
2 large spring onions, green and white parts, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
1 large potato
8 cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
1 ear of corn, kernels cut from the cob with a knife
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1. In a medium frying pan heat the salami over a medium heat, until it starts to release its fat and crisp up a bit. Add the spring onions and jalapeño and cook for another couple of minutes.
2. Meanwhile, microwave the potato for 5 minutes, or until just cooked through. Carefully chop the cooked potato into 1-inch chunks and add to the pan.
3. Add the tomatoes and corn kernels to the pan and stir. Cook for a minute or so, until just heated through, then stir in the vinegar, chives and a little salt if you think it needs it (the salami makes it quite salty anyway). Serve immediately.
One thing I have noticed about Indian food, both whilst I was in India, and cooking recipes from a book, is that it can be quite time consuming. It’s not necessarily difficult, or complex, with strange techniques (though that certainly does apply to some of the breads and desserts) but sauces often have to be simmered for hours, meat grilled and then added to curries, different part prepared separately and, over the course of hours, brought together. Despite my knee-jerk reaction to such recipes, which is to either skip them, or simplify them down beyond all recognition, I have started to see that these long cooking times, and separate steps are necessary to layer different flavours and textures, and they really infuse a dish with taste. One reason home-cooked curries don’t taste the same as “authentic” ones is this lack of a long cooking time or layering of techniques. That and the use of curry pastes….
With my new-found, if somewhat obvious, knowledge I decided to attempt a recipe which ordinarily I would have glossed over as being far too complicated, goli biryani. This involved making a whole array of different sauces and mixtures, before layering up each of the mixtures in a degchi. I had absolutely no idea what one of those was, so I used the only ovenproof, lidded dish I had on hand, which is a gyuveche dish I brought back from Bulgaria. Turned out, they are actually moderately similar in style, and in fact biryanis are in style a close relative of the Bulgarian gyuveche recipe in terms of method, layering up meat, vegetables and in the Indian case rice, and baking them in the oven so the flavours meld together.
From Khazana of Indian Recipes
I urge you not to skip any of the steps, as the result as the layers seep into each other in the oven is divine. I have listed some ingredients twice, as they are used for different parts of the recipe in different quantities; this is intentional. Read the whole recipe first before starting!
150g basmati rice
1 bay leaf
300ml chicken stock
6 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon coriander leaves, minced
1 teaspoon mint leaves, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch of turmeric powder
2 tablespoons milk
3-4 threads of saffron
250g chicken mince
1 tablespoon coriander leaves
1 green chilli, minced
1/4-inch piece of ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 green cardamom pods
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-inch piece of ginger, minced
1 green chilli, minced
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
1. In a medium saucepan boil the rice with the bay leaf and stock until cooked. Drain off any excess liquid and set the rice aside.
2. Divide the yoghurt between to bowls. Into one, mix the teaspoon of minced coriander leaves and mint leaves. Into the other mix the cayenne and turmeric powder. Set aside.
3. Heat the milk in a small bowl in the microwave until just warm. Put the saffron threads in the milk and set aside to steep.
4. In a medium bowl mix together the chicken mince with the remaining tablespoon coriander leaves, the minced green chilli and the minced ginger. Mix well, roll into balls a little large than a walnut (makes about 8-10 balls) and leave balls to set a little on a plate in the refrigerator for half an hour.
5. In a frying pan or wok heat a little oil until it shimmers. Add the chicken balls and sear for a minute on each side (about 4 minutes in all) so they are golden brown on the outside. Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.
6. To the pan add the cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds until they start to crackle slightly. Add the nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, and then the sliced onion, and cook for a couple of minutes, until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and the minced green chilli, along with the coriander powder. Stir well. Finally add the yoghurt which contains the cayenne and turmeric and stir well again.
7. To this mixture return the chicken balls, add about 150ml water and cook for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced by about half and is lovely and thick.
8. In a degchi, or small, narrow-mouthed ovenproof dish with a lid, layer half (about 5) of the chicken meatballs, with some of the sauce from the pan. Layer half of the rice on top, then spoon half of the coriander/mint yoghurt on top of that, and finish with half of the garam masala powder and a tablespoon of the saffron milk. Repeat, by layering the rest of the meatballs, topped with the sauce, then the yoghurt mixture, and the rest of the rice. Finish with the remainder of the garam masala and the saffron-infused milk. Place the lid on the pot and cook for 15-20 minutes in 180 C oven.
9. Remove from the oven, take care when removing the lid in case of escaping steam, and serve immediately, with raita or a vegetable curry.
Another cake, yip, I told you there were going to be a lot coming up. This one was chosen for its freezability. We all know that cakes and biscuits freeze surprisingly well, but bar cakes like this one actually benefit from freezing, as if you cut them while still frozen you get a lovely clean slice, rather than a rather mangled slice with crumbs and popped blueberries leaking everywhere. Make in advance, store in the freezer, pull out, slice and leave to defrost while you beautify yourself/your home. Then bask in everyone’s amazement.
Lemon blueberry bars
Adapted from Dinner with Julie
I had to increase this recipe by one-quarter to fit a 9-inch square pan rather than an 8-inch pan (64 versus 81, come on people, keep up), and the result was, well, it worked, but lets just say doing maths in your head as you’re bringing a recipe together is a very bad idea. Chances of missing one ingredient or reverting back to the original recipe for just one item are very large. Do your sums beforehand, before you have a kitchen disaster. The original recipe had coconut which I thought would muddy the waters a bit much, so I layered lemon zest over the base instead, and upped the number of blueberries, so there was a nice even layer over the base. When I added the lemon topping the blueberries floated slightly and it was easy to see where the gaps were and add a few more.
75g (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) butter
40g (scant 1/4 cup) sugar
190g (1 1/4 cups) gluten-free flour blend
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon
350g (2 cups) fresh blueberries
150g (v scant 1 cup) sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Plus 1 egg yolk
75ml fresh lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the gluten-free flour blend and the salt and using your fingertips press the mixture into the base of a 9×9-inch silicone (or parchment-lined) baking pan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until it smells nice and has the faintest golden tinge to it.
2. Meanwhile zest a lemon onto a plate. Wash and drain the blueberries. Then in a large bowl beat together the sugar, cornflour, baking powder, salt, eggs, egg yolk and lemon juice until smooth and homogenous.
3. Sprinkle the lemon zest onto the baked base and top with the blueberries. Spread them out so they’re in a single layer. Pour the lemony custard mix over the top and bake the whole lot in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden on top and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted in the centre might come out clean if you’re lucky, though it’s more likely to come out covered in blueberry juice. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, before moving to the freezer. Once frozen, turn out of the pan, wrap tightly in clingfilm and freeze until required.
To serve, cut into slightly smaller than 2-inch squares while still frozen, then bring up to room temperature (about an hour).
- It’s Greek.
- It’s sort of like mayonnaise, only really not.
- It contains gluten.
Most people on reading about skordalia for the first time would probably say “oh yum, must try that next time I’m in the Med”. My mind works slightly differently and thought “Hmm, sneaky gluten hider, I’m glad I know what it is so I can avoid it”. This only applies to avoiding it in the outside world though, it doesn’t mean I can’t make it myself.
Describing skordalia like mayonnaise is a bit like describing a chicken as like a carrot. Yes, they probably have some of the same constituent parts, carbon, for example, and yes they are both food but there the similarities end. Skordalia is made by blending ingredients together and slowly adding oil to bring it together into an emulsion, but it lacks egg, and instead is based on walnuts, garlic, herbs and soggy bread. The result, bizarrely enough, is considerably tastier than mayonnaise, and the perfect foil for some rather bland, cold chicken. If you’re looking for an exotic way to turn cooked chicken and lettuce into dinner, this could well be it, plus the name makes it sound really fancy. Even though it isn’t.
Chicken salad with skordalia
Adapted from Mark Bittman
1 slice gluten-free bread (I used genius but homemade would of course be great)
3 tablespoons milk
2 large handfuls walnuts
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1 large handful fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground paprika
4 tablespoons light olive oil
2 cooked chicken breasts, thighs or legs, shredded
Lettuce, pepper, cucumber or whatever else you fancy in your salad
1. Tear the bread into chunks and place in a bowl with the milk while you prepare the rest of the sauce.
2. Put the walnuts, garlic, parsley, paprika and a good pinch of flaky sea salt into a blender or processor and chop for about 30 seconds, or until it forms a fine crumbly powder. Add the bread pieces and milk, blend again, then add the olive oil, a little at a time, until you have a mixture that resembles thick mayonnaise.
3. Tip the skordalia into a bowl and mix into the chicken with a fork. Serve with lettuce, pepper or rocket, something salady.