Sorry I haven’t posted anything for so long, that’s the topic for another entry. But I’ve still been cooking regularly and here’s what I made for C & me last night. Another great dish from Salma Hage’s The Lebanese Kitchen, published by the wonderful Phaidon, it’s Koftas With Tomatoe Sauce And Potatoes.
It seems that all countries have their own version of meatballs but these Koftas made with lamb, onions, garlic, parsley and mint (amongst other items) had a particularly middle eastern flavour. The recipe called for seven spice season but I used some Ras El Hanout instead which is Moroccan but pretty similar, I imagine. And here it is…straight out of the oven and on the plate. I still score low on presentation but it tasted great, especially when I had the leftovers for lunch today!
There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.
The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.
I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.
I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).
So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.
The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.
I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!
Are there such things as favourites? A favourite restaurant? A favourite song? A favourite movie or favourite food? Probably but I would say best things are better; the best song you ever heard, the best cocktail you ever drank, the best partner you ever had!? Favourites can be dangerous and become things you return to again and again; that song that you repeatedly play or that dish that you repeatedly cook – you like them, that’s fine but nothing is as good as the first time and every time you return to a favourite you are denying yourself the opportunity of trying something new that might just become your new favourite! A ‘best’ thing can always be bettered and having bests can inspire you to search for the better. So don’t have favourites, treat something you enjoyed more than anything else as the best in its class but don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try what might just become your next best thing!
The current best thing for me foodwise is my brand new Emile Henry (not Emile Heskey!) Tagine I received for my 50th birthday from my brother on 15th April. We’ve grown quite a liking to ‘tagine’ recipes even though up until the weekend we cooked the dishes in a regular large frying pan with a lid that was no more than convex. However, this Saturday saw my first opportunity to give my new tagine a run out and I chose a recipe from the Moroccan chapter of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Does cook book – Beef tagine.
Here’s Jamie’s version from his book (copyright Jamie Oliver etc…)
Now, on this particular day, my wife and I had visited Manchester for a day’s shopping and didn’t arrive home until about 7pm. So it was a rush into the kitchen, get the recipe open and crack on! The first part of the process was to create a spice mix called ras-el-hanout which translates to top of the house and after a bit of research I discovered that this mix can contain just about any mix of spices you have to hand. So I bunged in everything I could find from cumin, to coriander, ginger, soumac, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric and loads more. With time running short I barely had time to give the meat a 20 minute marinade when the recipe called for 2 hours plus! Still, I fried some onion and coriander (cilantro) stalks in olive oil in the base of the tagine before chucking in the meat to brown off. I did manage to soak some chick peas earlier in the morning and I now had these boiling away in a separate saucepan but I poured in a can of tomatoes and stock into the tagine, popped on the lid and left it to simmer for an hour. After an hour, I tipped in the chickpeas and added some diced butternut squash and dried prunes. Although the recipe advised cooking it for 3 and a bit hours, I really only had a couple of hours otherwise we wouldn’t have been eating until way after 11pm! A few toasted almond flakes sprinkled over the top finished the dish and added a bit of crunch. However, as with all tagine dishes I’ve tried recently the flavours and tastes in the dish were superb, the only slight problem was that the meat wasn’t quite a meltingly tender as another 60 minutes simmering would have produced. Here’s my resultant dish which was washed down with a bottle of Chablis (we tend to do white wines when it’s late)
So tagines are my current best food and I admit can be counted amongst my favourites. They may not be my best for ever but I’ll certainly make the most of them until they aren’t!
For my birthday I received ‘Gok Cooks Chinese’ which is a Chinese cook book by Gok Wan. If you don’t know who Gok Wan is he does a lot of TV programmes in the UK about making women look good naked and re-vamping their wardrobes in a camp sort of way so I was a bit surprised to see him bringing out a cook book. My all round opinion of Gok took a bit of a boos recently when he displayed his very human side in a reality TV show called Hotel. I’d leafed through his book and read the introduction where he declared his dad ran his own Chinese restaurant so again, my preconception that he was using nothing more than his Chinese heritage as a means to sell a ghost-written cook book was completely unfounded. In fact I quite like Gok and last night I cooked up his Spicy Sichuan Chicken which was a real winner. The sauce was fairly basic made up of Chinese cooking wine, cornflour, light and dark soy sauce, spring onions, chillies, peanuts and sesame oil including some for marinating but the addition of Sichuan peppercorns leant it a heat and taste that really took it to the next level. Gok spells it Sichuan bit the jar says Szechuan so I don’t know which is right only Gok admits he never learned to speak Chinese.
Served with rice with the help of chopsticks and a decent bottle of Chablis overall this was in the bracket of pretty tasty!
Agnello Con Piselli Freschi – Lamb With Fresh Peas
Lovely dish from Two Greedy Italians by Carluccio & Contaldo. Shoulder of lamb slow cooked with onion, garlic, celery and carrot in white wine with peas and tomatoes. And washed down with a beautiful bottle of 50 year old Barolo bought for me by my wife for my 50th birthday.
Another fib, it’s actually from the Singapore and Malaysia chapter of my Essential Asian Cookbook. Very tasty this but could have used a couple more chillies (the recipe said 6, we only had 2).
Firstly I made a paste out of garlic, chilli, an onion, lemongrass, galangal and turmeric; fried it, chucked in some skinless chicken and then coconut milk to simmer with a couple of halved limes, lime leaves an coriander. Served on a bed of rice.
Now this was a triumph; white haricot beans with clams. A recipe from The Food Of Spain by the brilliant Claudia Roden. Accompanied by some German bread to mop up the juice and a Greek salad of spicy aubergine. Lovely.
Last night I made Greek Lamb Pilaf with apricots and pistachios. The recipe also included rice, onion, cinnamon, parsley, salt and pepper and tomato purée. The slow cooked lamb was beautiful but overall tasted a little bland.
We really do have the palette for Chinese food at the moment as here is a view of our 3rd or 4th weekly Chinese meal in a row. Tonight it’s chicken with red pepper and pea nuts all lovingly stir-fried in the wok…enjoy.
I’ve been a keen cook since the early 1980s (I have a feeling that story will be one of the subjects of a future blog) and some 30 years on I’m currently getting to know and enjoy cooking from countries that embrace Muslim culture mainly thanks to a book C bought me for Christmas called Arabesque by the excellent cookery writer Claudia Roden.
This wonderful compendium of recipes from Turkey, Lebanon and Morrocco inspired me to try my hand for the first time at preserving lemons (or preserving anything for that matter) and here is the jar 6 weeks on from the picture taken above.
The lemons are now ready for use and would have been utilised for tonight’s lamb, potato and pea tagine except that we still have a few left over in a jar of the same preserved lemons I recently found in a Waitrose store in Preston along with the uncommon spice that is ubiquitous in Turkish cuisine; sumac.
Here’s how I made preserved lemons from Arabesque:
4 (or more) lemons
4 table spoons of sea salt
Juice of 4 (or more) additional lemons
Wash and scrub the lemons and make 4 slices in each lemon from top to bottom. Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of sea salt into the slits. Press the lemons down into a sterilising jar and close the lid. Leave them for 3-4 days.
Open the jar and press the lemons down as much as possible then cover in lemon juice squeezed from the other lemons. Close the jar again and leave for at least a month. Before use, wash the lemons under running water to lose the salt and enjoy.
I’m really impatient to try my lemons so while writing this I have decided to use them in tonight’s recipe so I will let you know how they taste.